literacy (and illiteracy)


literacy (and illiteracy)
The PRC has given a great deal of attention to eradicating illiteracy. Many campaigns have been directed towards this objective, including one beginning in 1994. Some census figures indicate the progress made. The 1964 census showed 38.1 per cent of all people aged twelve and over were illiterate or semi-literate, by which was meant knowing few or no written words. By 1982, the rate had dropped to 23.5 per cent. However, the 1990 census changed the age boundary from twelve to fifteen (and older), in which case the rate of illiteracy or semi-literacy in the entire population had now fallen from 22.81 per cent in 1982 to 15.88 per cent in 1990. The figure for the 2000 census among people aged fifteen and older was 6.72 per cent.
The improvement between 1990 and 2000 is due to the 1994 literacy campaign and to the deaths of old people, who show comparatively high rates of illiteracy. Yet some have suggested that the figures are too low, for example arguing that many older people claimed literacy falsely. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had a figure of adult literacy in China in 1990 of only 73.3 per cent (UNDP 1993:136), moving up to 83.5 per cent in 1999 (UNDP 2001). In other words, illiteracy and semi-literacy was 26.7 per cent in 1990 and 16.5 per cent in 1999, both figures very much higher than those given in the Chinese census, but decreasing at about the same rate. The UNDP (2001) defines literacy as ‘the percentage of people aged fifteen and above who can, with understanding, both read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life’.
This certainly reflects a considerably higher demand than the census, which regards illiteracy and semi-literacy as knowing few or no written words.
Furthermore, there are inequalities in literacy. For instance, about 70 per cent of illiterates or semi-literates in China are female. Rates are comparatively high in the border areas, other than in the northeast, and among most ethnic minorities (but see Koreans). A serious problem is the ‘new illiterates’. The term refers to young people who leave school because of good employment opportunities, which means that it is a problem particular to the current period of reform. In March 1990, the Chinese representative at a UNESCO Conference on Education held in Bangkok disclosed that there were altogether 2.7 million ‘new illiterates’, accounting for 3 to 4 per cent of all school-age children. This is more than half the number who throw off illiteracy every year. The announcement of the 1994 literacy campaign revealed that about 1 million ‘new illiterates’ were being added every year.
Hayhoe, R. (ed.) (1992). Education and Modernization: The Chinese Experience. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (1993). Human Development Report, 1993. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
——(2001). Human Development Report 2001: Making New Technologies Work for Human Development. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
COLIN MACKERRAS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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