General Question

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

What criteria are used in determining a literacy rate?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (18935 points ) February 21st, 2011

For example, when we say “Ancient Rome had a 50% literacy rate”, what exactly does that mean? 50% of citizens? 50% of all those considered to be adults, regardless of gender, land-owning, freedom, class, etc? 50% of all people, including infants? Exactly how literate does one have to be in order to be considered “literate”? Can write their own name? Can read a children’s book? Can text, but novels and textbooks are out? Anything above, say, an 8th grade reading level?

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1 Answer

thorninmud's avatar

“The Revised Recommendation Concerning the International Standardization of Educational Statistics” is the standard often followed when compiling these statistics. Here are the definitions and methodologies it recommends:

i) A person is literate who can with understanding both read and write a short
simple statement related to his/her everyday life.

ii) A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities
in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his/her group and
community and also for enabling him/her to continue to use reading, writing
and calculation for his/her own and the community’s development.

Persons who do not fulfill (i) or (ii) are termed illiterates or functional
illiterates respectively. Adult literacy, in international practice, applies
only to the population aged 15 years and over, classified by sex, by five-year
age-groups, and by urban/rural zones.

(b) Measurement Methods: To calculate the adult literacy rate, the number
of iterates aged 15 years and over is divided by the corresponding total
population aged 15 years and over and multiplied by 100.

(c) The Indicator in the DSR Framework: Literacy is a reflection of the
total education experience. It is an essential element for effective
participation in sustainable development processes, and represents a Driving
Force indicator within the DSR Framework.

(d) Limitations of the Indicator: As literacy is a relative concept, no
single measure can separate the literate from the illiterate. A cut-off point
is not totally appropriate because there are many different forms of literacy.

A person might be literate in numeric terms, but have difficulty with
comprehension. Literacy can be defined in terms of work, school, home, and
social spheres. Each area of life requires different skills.

Therefore, literacy ideally should be determined by the measurement of
reading, writing and numeracy abilities of each person within a social
context. It may however be too time-consuming, costly and operationally
complex to organize such measurements during national population censuses.
Literacy status is therefore usually based on self-declaration or declaration
of the head of household, which sometimes gives rise to concerns about data
reliability and consequently comparability, especially for females in many
developing countries.

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