Illiterate Nation

Okay, it’s not exactly as stated in the headline, here’s how it is – 61 nations were surveyed and South Africa emerged the sixth most illiterate nation among them. This is according to a descriptive rank-order study by the Central Connecticut State University which was enabled by variables that tested literacy achievement and the exemplification of literate behaviours across countries.

The World’s Most Literate Nations (WMLN) study which was launched this year, surveyed and ranked the 61 nations based on how well the countries support the literate behaviours of their populace. And from its findings, one can with mild authority state that South Africans are among the most illiterate humans of the world.

Mind you, the rankings were not done based on the nations populace’s ability to read but on their literate behaviours and resources that support those behaviours.

Precisely, the “rankings are based on five categories standing as indicators of the literate health of nations.” They include the following:

1. Libraries– This is indexed with 4 variables thus: number of academic libraries, number of public and school libraries, and the number of volumes in all public libraries.

2. Newspapers– Also indexed with 4 variables including



  • Paid-for dailies: per capita number of titles of paid-for daily newspapers
  • Circulation: per capita number of issues of paid-for daily newspapers printed daily
  • Online editions: per capita number of daily newspapers on the Internet.
  • Export of newspapers: per capita value expressed in USD of all newspapers exported to other countries

3. Computer Availability– Percentage of households with either a desktop or laptop computer (excludes other devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, or TVs).

4. Education Inputs– This involves years of schooling (the total number of years of compulsory education.) and public expenditure on education expressed as a percentage of GDP.

5. Education Outputs- Reading assessment scores for younger and older students.

South Africa took the 56th position, performing poorly in Computer (56th), newspapers (59th) and libraries (50th). Meanwhile, its education inputs and outputs came in the middle at 37th and 38th, respectively.

As shown in the study, eastern nations were more equipped for literacy than western nations, with European and Asian nations ranking higher overall.

All top-ranked countries in the world are from the Scandinavian region, led by Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland. The United States ranked 7th overall, making it the first and only western nation among the top 10 countries, followed by Canada at the 11th position and Mexico far in the middle of the list at 38th.

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

Check out some of the rankings below:

Country Rank Country Rank Country Rank
Finland 1 Netherlands 10 Israel 19
Norway 2 Canada 11 Poland 20
Iceland 3 France 12 Malta 21
Denmark 4 Luxembourg 13 South Korea 22
Sweden 5 Estonia 14 Czech Republic 23
Switzerland 6 New Zealand 15 Ireland 24
The United States 7 Australia 16 Italy 25
Germany 8 United Kingdom 17 Austria 26
Latvia 9 Belgium 18 Russia 27
Country Rank Country Rank Country Rank Country Rank
Slovenia 28 Chile 37 Costa Rica 46 Panama 55
Hungary 29 Mexico 38 Argentina 47 South Africa 56
Slovak Republic 30 China 39 Mauritius 48 Colombia 57
Lithuania 31 Greece 40 Serbia 49 Morocco 58
Japan 32 Romania 41 Turkey 50 Thailand 59
Cyprus 33 Portugal 42 Georgia 51 Indonesia 60
Bulgaria 34 Brazil 43 Tunisia 53 Botswana 61
Spain 35 Croatia 44 Malaysia 53
Singapore 36 Qatar 45 Albania 54

According to WMLN, this ranking and world literacy strongly suggests and demonstrates that “literates behaviours are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economies that define global future.”

A multidimensional approach to literacy, as related, “speaks to the social, economic, and governmental powers of nations around the globe…The power and value of being literate in a literate society are played out every day around the world.

See Also: How Ignorant Are South Africans About These Things In The Country?

Many individuals and even whole societies make considerable sacrifices to become literate just as others take it for granted. Societies that do not practice literate behaviour are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal, and harsh,” WMLN stated.

You can check out further details about the survey here.

95% of illiterate people in the world live in developing countries and as Africans, there are monumental hindrances to overcome in terms of both wiping out illiteracy and providing an adequate education. Most African nations have adult literacy rates below 50% and, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, about 45 million children don’t go to school.

In a bid to counter inadequate education and overcome illiteracy, the South African government alongside the private sector and United Nations agencies such as UNICEF, in recent years, have formed a number of initiatives. While UNICEF’s Schools for Africa programme was established with the aim of increasing access to basic education for children all over Africa, the government of South Africa has also provided local support for the country’s illiterate adults through the Kha Ri Gude (‘Let us Learn’) programme, a mass literacy campaign which aims to reduce illiteracy.