Chinese illiteracy a subject of world's concern

08:25, March 02, 2011      

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International concern has grown over the illiteracy and education inequality found in China, said a senior official of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Tuesday.

"Although China has maintained strong progress toward universal adult literacy, its illiterate population is still one of the biggest in the world," Tang Qian, assistant director-general for the education sector under the UNESCO, told China Daily during a forum in Beijing on Tuesday.

"China has the biggest educational system in the world and largest population among developing countries," he said. "So when China makes progress, the resulting statistics for the world are impressive."

China, when gauged according to the numbers of its citizens who are illiterate adults, ranks as the eighth worst among ten sample countries selected from around the world, according to a report released by UNESCO on Tuesday.

Around 72 percent of the illiterate adults in the world live in the ten countries, which were chosen from 128 countries, according to the report.

Across the planet, nearly 796 million adults lack basic literacy, making up about 17 percent of the world's adult population, according to the latest data from the UNESCO.

The vast majority of them live in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, although Arab states also have high levels of adult illiteracy, said the report.

"China has made rapid advances in cutting down the numbers of school drop-outs in recent years," according to Yuan Guiren, minister of education.

For example, about 80 percent of Chinese were illiterate in 1949, while the figure fell to less than 3.5 percent in 2010, he said.

"The country also has topped the world in its number of people who have received higher education, which has increased about 265 times during the past 60 years," he said.

Tang said at Tuesday's forum that "wider education inequalities between rural and urban regions are restricting opportunities in China", although this obstacle is not only present in China. Chinese experts warned that the low quality of the schooling offered in many rural areas is making it difficult for students from such places to be admitted to universities.

Only about one in five students at China's leading universities come from rural areas, according to the 21st Century Education Research Institute.

But the country has no official statistics showing how many rural students study in China's universities, a senior official of Ministry of Education said on Tuesday.

"The rapid urbanization makes it hard to count the total number of rural students studying in universities," said Li Yanli, a statistics official with the ministry.

By Chen Jia, China Daily
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