The figure is so high because the article includes a lot of skills and knowledge under 'literacy and numeracy' that don't really belong there. It's as though they say I'm at risk of malnutrition because I have no access to truffles, or unhealthy because I can't run a 10-sec hundred metres.
If they didn't define illiteracy and innumeracy that way, they wouldn't have an attention-grabbing story and wouldn't sell more papers. Sigh. If the definition of 'illiterate' was 'can't read the back page of the paper' (that's where the sports news is, in this country), the rate would be more like 5 - 10%.
That said, we are
seeing the results of a lot of kids falling through the cracks in the school system - and that is
where the problem needs to be fixed. It isn't where the problem starts, though, in many cases. Four- and five-year-olds turn up at school with their futures already compromised by their parents' lack of care. Often the parents aren't coping very well, economically and/or socially, and the kids' failure is inherited. Breaking the cycle needs early, intensive intervention. That costs money for school staff but governments seem not to realise that every $10 spent there will save them $50 in crime prevention and health costs later.