On Accelerating the Global Literacy Transition
Discussion Paper 2002-18, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
December 31, 2002
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Environment and Natural Resources; Research and Assessment Systems for Sustainability
Literacy has been defined as one of the primary goals of the sustainable development. Two of the UN's millennium goals pertain to education. This paper examines the importance of literacy to sustainability, the speed with which literacy spreads in a country, and identifies factors, which can accelerate the literacy transition.
This paper suggests that most countries in the world are either in the process of an education transition to full literacy, and perhaps to universal full primary and secondary education achievements for all adults, or have finished this transition. A significant number of countries is far from completion. The work presented here shows that the transition has a general, sigmoid pattern. A statistical analysis shows 2/3 of countries is on a time path lasting 55-100 years for the transition from 10 to 90 percent adult literacy (the remainder is on a longer path). As literacy is an important skill in the modern world, it is important that we find ways to move slower countries, particularly those in the early stages of the transition, towards the 3 generation path.
This paper presents data on the education transition, identifies factors that accelerate the literacy transition and explores the fastest possible transition with a simulation model.
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