Social Issues

Bid to cut illiteracy rate to hit UN goal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 May, 2011, 12:00am

The Ministry of Education is moving to cut the country's illiterate population by more than 10 million in the next five years to meet a pledge to halve it under the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

Statistics from the latest census show the illiteracy rate fell from 6.72 per cent in 2000 to 4.08 per cent last year - meaning the mainland still had 54.6 million illiterate people by the end of October. It needs to further reduce the illiterate population by 11.6 million in the next five years to meet the goal set in 2000, when the illiterate population stood at 87 million.

To facilitate the illiteracy eradication campaign, the ministry has for the first time set a literacy benchmark, saying that a person should be able to write at least 950 Chinese characters to be considered literate.

State Council guidelines on illiteracy eradication issued in 1988 stipulated that a farmer needed to be able to read at least 1,500 Chinese characters to be literate, while for city dwellers it was at least 500 more.

Quoting an unidentified ministry official, Xinhua reported yesterday that most illiterate people live in remote and impoverished regions populated by ethnic minorities. It said the lack of road and telecommunications access to such areas made illiteracy eradication campaigns more difficult. The official said future efforts should focus on those aged between 15 and 50, a legacy blamed on the large number of drop-outs due to the poor enforcement of nine-year compulsory education in the past.

Beijing declared in 2001 that the country had basically eradicated illiteracy in the 15 to 50 age group. But mainland media quoted a ministry official as saying in 2007 that there were 116 million illiterate people on the mainland at the end of 2005, a rise of 30 million in five years. The deterioration was blamed on chronic under-funding of mainland schools and abolition of many grass-roots agencies devoted to illiteracy eradication.

Xu Rong, from the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women, who has been working with illiterate people for years, said the difficulty in rural areas was that many who attended classes became illiterate again because it was hard to put what they learned into practice.

'These people are no longer counted as illiterate even though they can't read and write, so the statistics are of little significance,' Xu said.

She said achieving a turnaround depended on ensuring nine years of compulsory schooling to prevent new drop-outs, with more funding for impoverished families.