South Africans among the most illiterate in the world

A new study by the Central Connecticut State University shows that South Africa is ranked as one of the most illiterate countries in the world.

The university’s report doesn’t analyse a country’s ability to read, but rather the “literate behaviour” of the populace in 61 countries, including South Africa.

The rankings are based on five categories standing as indicators of the literate health of nations: libraries, newspapers, education inputs and outputs, and computer availability.

South Africa was ranked 56th overall, with a poor showing in computers (56th), Newspapers (59th) and libraries (50th) – while education inputs and outputs were middling at 37th and 38th, respectively.

Notably, the study found that western nations were not as well equipped for literacy as the east, with nations from Europe and Asia placing higher overall.

The world’s top-ranked countries are all from the Scandinavian region, led by Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. The USA is the first and only western nation in the top 10, ranked 7th overall, followed by Canada (11th) and Mexico far down the list at 38th.

The lowest-ranked countries are all largely developing nations from Africa and central Asia – with Botswana ranked lowest at 61st, below Indonesia, Thailand and Morocco.

The top and bottom 10 countries

# Country
1 Finland
2 Norway
3 Iceland
4 Denmark
5 Sweden
6 Switzerland
7 United States
8 Germany
9 Latvia
10 Netherlands
52 Tunisia
53 Malaysia
54 Albania
55 Panama
56 South Africa
57 Colombia
58 Morocco
59 Thailand
60 Indonesia
61 Botswana

The categories are defined as:

  • Newspapers: paid-for dailies, circulation, online editions and newspaper exports
  • Libraries: The number of academic, public and school libraries, and the number of volumes publicly accessible
  • Education inputs: Years of schooling and public expenditure on education
  • Education outputs: Reading assessment scores for younger and older students
  • Computers: Percentage of households with either desktop or laptop computer

The group notes that the study was not a controlled experiment, but rather an assessment of larger trends across the nations analysed.

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