FLN is broadly conceptualized as a child’s ability to read basic texts and solve basic arithmetic problems, such as addition and subtraction. Foundational literacy is defined as the ability to read and understand texts, in addition to writing clearly and coherently. Foundational numeracy includes the ability to use numbers and mathematical concepts in daily life, such as managing money, solving problems, and making decisions.
These are skills that are critical for children's cognitive, social, and emotional development and which enable them to fully participate in their educational and social lives. Individuals with strong FLN skills have greater opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in contemporary knowledge-based economies. They are better equipped to find and keep good jobs, to navigate the increasingly complex and information-rich environment of today’s world, and to fully participate in civic life.
As such, FLN can contribute to economic development and poverty reduction. Countries with high levels of literacy and numeracy tend to have lower poverty rates and greater social inclusion rates, as individuals with strong literacy and numeracy skills have more opportunities to improve economic situations for themselves and their families. Moreover, a country's literacy and numeracy outcomes are also important for civic engagement and democracy. Literate and numerate citizens are better equipped to understand and participate in public life and make informed decisions about political and social issues.
Building on existing thinking within the sector, we defined FLN and operationalized it to estimate funding within donors’ ODA to education. This estimation includes projects that improve foundational literacy and numeracy skills among children of primary school age. Bilateral ODA for FLN is estimated to have reached US$540 million in 2020. Funding for FLN fluctuated between 2016 and 2020 with only a small average annual increase of 0.3%, despite an average annual 2% increase in bilateral education spending over the same period.
Germany and France rank as the highest donors to education overall, although they do not reach the top five donors to FLN. The US is the largest bilateral donor to FLN providing 64% of total funding to FLN in 2020, followed by the UK (24%) and Canada (7%). Given expected reductions in the UK’s funding since 2020, it is likely that the US will remain the only major bilateral donor to FLN identifiable through currently available data.
Differences between the top donor lists are likely to reflect how different donors prioritize FLN within their education ODA, but may also be influenced by varying levels of project-level data provided in donors’ submissions to OECD CRS and different terminologies/language to define and measure FLN.