Five years in school and not able to read ?

It is true that more and more girls are studying in schools in even the poorest of countries.

But are they all really becoming literate ?

Unfortunately the answer is no.

In a new study on female literacy and years of schooling in 53 low-income countries the authors reported some startling findings.

In half of the countries with comparable data, the majority of adult women who completed four to six years of primary school remain illiterate, in the sense of not being able to read a single sentence. They went to school for several years and learned approximately nothing.
In just a handful of countries, going to schools for at least four or five years is essentially a perfect guarantee of basic literacy.

They also detected big differences between countries in quality of education.

The gaps between countries are also eye-popping. To pick two examples, In Tanzania 57% of women between 25 and 34 years old who reported fifth-grade as their highest educational attainment could read a sentence. In Ghana, that same number was 3%. Essentially, a year of schooling in Tanzania seems to raise your chances of literacy by nearly twenty-times as much as a year of schooling in Ghana. Should we believe that, and if so, what does it mean for Ghanaian education ?

Interestingly the same study revealed that India fared badly in quality of education index compared to its neighbours. Only 48% of women who completed five years of schooling in India attained functional literacy. It showed that schooling was twice as productive in Pakistan than India in ensuring functional literacy. Nepal fared the best in this aspect in South Asia.


Credit - The Hindu

Credit – The Hindu

With rich and middle class relying more and more on private schools, many in India are not realising how bad the quality of education are in public schools.  Decreased funding due to distorted priorities and increase in corruption has made most government-run schools in interiors non functional.

The other day Prime Minister Modi challenged Pakistan to go to war against poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and infant mortality, saying “let’s see who wins those wars”, India or Pakistan. Hope the Prime Minister after seeing the data will be shocked enough to do something about it, at least to beat Pakistan.



  1. says

    I’m not denying gender as a decisive factor (It is known that teachers spend more time on boys, this even in a bad school a boy’s chances will be bigger to learn something), I’m wondering how the comparable data looks for men. I’m wondering because I’m currently teaching young adults, mostly men from Syria who have really few skills in maths.

    • Arun says

      As I understood the data is based on oral interview of women by health workers. Women were asked how many years they went to school and then were made to read a sentence.

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