writing and the spread of literacy
It is fitting that this history should conclude with a brief examination of the present extent of the knowledge of the first two of the three R's, reading and writing, throughout the world. It is safe to say that more people now possess that knowledge than at any time before, although we can produce no definite figures for antiquity, nor even for more recent times until the early nineteenth century. On a very rough estimate, perhaps something like three-fifths of the world's population are still illiterate; that is, perhaps as many as 1,300,000,000. Clearly very much still remains to be done in bringing the vital first steps in education to the world's illiterate majority.
Table I shows percentages of illiteracy for a number of countries. Figures of this kind are valuable as a general indication of the extent of illiteracy, but they must be treated with caution. In the first place, each is the product of its own country, and no doubt they vary in the degree of their reliability. Then, comparisons may be misleading, because the figures relate to quite different criteria of what constitutes illiteracy. Thus Eng