Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Society's Level of Literacy: A Cross Cultural Study

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Society's Level of Literacy: A Cross Cultural Study

Article excerpt


According to Westby (2004), there are 875 million people in the world without access to literacy; 113 million of them are children who do not have access to school. The CIA World Factbook (2010) states that there are currently 785 million illiterate adult (age 15 and over) in the world, two third of them are women.

There are very significant differences between the levels of literacy in different countries, as demonstrated by a series of International Adult Literacy Surveys (IALS) that were conducted in 1994, 1998, 2001 in various countries (Blum, Goldstein, & Gue'rin-Pace, 2001; Canada, Human Resources, 2003). For purposes of the IALS survey, literacy was defined as "the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community--to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential" (OECD, 2000). Three types of literacy were measured: prose, document, and quantitative. Prose literacy denotes the "knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from texts including editorials, news stories, brochures, and instruction manuals." Document literacy relates to "the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts" and quantitative literacy refers to "the knowledge and skills required to apply arithmetic operations, either alone or sequentially, to numbers embedded in printed materials, such as balancing a check book, figuring out a tip, completing an order form, or determining the amount of interest on a loan from an advertisement."

Recognizing the importance of literacy and education, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) initiated the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that was jointly developed by the participating countries (41-57 countries) and administered to 15-year-olds in schools. PISA assesses how well students, who are nearing the end of compulsory education, have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society as adults. As of this writing, three assessment cycles have been conducted, in 2000, 2003 and 2006. On the basis of the test results, the participating countries were ranked and the ranking published.

The principle goal and innovation of this study is adding culture to the variables that are used to explain the difference in literacy rates among different nations.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

The level of literacy in a country or a society reflects the quality of the human capital in that country or society. "Literacy is accepted as an indispensable component of human development. Illiteracy or the absence of literacy is considered as the greatest impediment to human development" (Mazumdar, 2005, p. 98).

Low levels of literacy and general education can impede the economic development of a country in today's rapidly changing, technology-driven world. Literacy is a key factor that contributes to countries' economic growth and development, quality of life and international standing, beyond the clear advantages it has for the individual's life. Thus, Carbonaro (2006) maintains that literacy and education have significant positive associations with earning power. Hence, a UNESCO initiative aims to improve level of schooling and levels of adult literacy by 2015 (Dakar EFA goals) (UNESCO, 2006).

However, the initiative to acknowledge this fact and the decision to fight illiteracy and promote literacy can grow out of many different motivations, as the cases of China and Tanzania demonstrate. At first, the eradication of illiteracy was part of the struggle for social equality that characterized the initial transition to socialism in Tanzania and to communism in China. However, since the 1970s, both countries' government policy has focused on modernization and economic growth, which has led to changes in the motivations behind their educational policy. …

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