Review of World Literacy

World's Most Literate Nations


Reviews of World Literacy

From Amazon reviews

World Literacy: How Countries Rank and Why It Matters 

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5.0 out of 5 stars

A Must Read if You're Interested in Literacy
By Michael Moore VINE VOICE on March 23, 2016
Format: Paperback

What I liked about this book is that for all its measures and acronyms, it is largely conversational.

The authors realize from the start that they will have to convince us to care about World Literacy and what it might mean.

I must also divulge I am a literacy professor and I teach a course at my university called Global Citizens and my particular theme/emphasis is World Literacy. So, this topic is of interest to me and my job is to make it interesting to my students. I read this with a critical eye because these authors have to make this book interesting to me.

The first chapter focuses on placing literacy in an historical context. What is the value of literacy to a culture or society? The second chapter is in framing the problem of literacy and then establishing its cultural significance. Basically, the authors have to tell us how we can tell which culture or country is more literate than others. To do this the authors define literacy as engaging with printed words or writing. I wish they’d go a bit further in terms of what we do with the texts that we produce or are produced for us to read.

PIRLS, PISA, AILS are the ways (and there are more) that literacy is measured and how readers and nations are held accountable. The authors do a good job explaining how all these work and how all these are used. Of course the upshot of all these are rankings. The authors explain the rankings and give us the grains of salt with which to take the rankings.

I particularly liked the chapter on elementary schooling. This is my daily battleground so I was keen to see how they presented this and both historically and currently the authors are accurate. The authors choose several countries and explain how these approach elementary schooling. Surprisingly they are more alike than they are different. I found the authors are up to date and prescient.

The authors next examine the middle and secondary schooling or the “it’s too late by now to have a real influence” approach. And largely the authors are correct in that middle and secondary content teachers are far more worried about their content than their poorer students comprehending the content. Test scores dive when kids get to middle school and although there are many speculated reasons for this, no one seems able to overcome this phenomena.

The authors next go back to their narrative and this narrative is about how literate cultures are supported by libraries, newspapers, and bookstores. It’s an interesting chapter to read about what libraries, newspapers and bookstores were like in the past and what they are like now. The authors primarily stay within the context of the United States or United Kingdom. I would like to have seen some other cultures included. Still, they speculate on what all these will be like in the future. I immediately thought of seeing the card catalog of our university library wheeled out some twenty years ago to be discarded on a trash heap. I also speculated on how I obtain my news and books now. My subscriptions are a blend of print and online and I seem not to notice.

Next the authors look at indexes that tell us how much people read for work and pleasure and how these numbers are declining or are unchanged. Then it’s on to economic status and the world order and the future of the knowledge based economy. I’ve always found it interesting that the leading countries in term of PISA results and so on don’t seem to have much change in their GDP, stock exchanges and development. Then, there is the US who outpaces everyone when it comes to yearly patents applied for. You could put most countries applications together (exception China) and still not come close to the number applied for by the US. In spite of rigid schooling, common standards, inflexible testing and so forth, somewhere along the line kids still learn to think outside the box.

It is also clear that the largest companies today are very much technology oriented. I am reminded of Pittsburgh where massive closings of steel mills necessitated a need to reinvent itself as a city and did so by becoming technology driven. Pittsburgh invested in technology (of course, they had a leg up with Carnegie Mellon in town).

I found the book interesting throughout and commend the authors for telling world literacy as a story as opposed to overwhelming us with statistics and scores. Of course, the scores and statistics are in there and many people will want the book for these, but the strength of the book is in its discussion of these.