Illiteracy costs Japan's economy $87.78 billion: World Literacy Foundation

LONDON —

A new report released on Thursday shows the social and economic impact of literacy to Japan is $87.78 billion.

The report, from the World Literacy Foundation, shows that more than 800 million people across the world lack the basic reading and writing skills needed to accomplish simple tasks such as reading a medicine label or filling out a job application, costing the global economy more than $1.19 trillion a year.

“The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy” looks at the cost of illiteracy in emerging and developing countries, as well as the cost of functional illiteracy in the developed world. It shows more than one in five people across the globe can’t read or write, and more than 100 million children don’t go to school each day.

The report’s co-author Andrew Kay says Japan needs to do more to make serious in-roads to addressing the level of illiteracy in the country.

Often, the end result of low literacy levels is trapping people in a cycle of poverty, poor health, limited employment opportunities, reduced income potential and low productivity in businesses.

Next week, a collection of 300 of the world’s top literacy experts will meet in Oxford, England, at the inaugural World Literacy Summit to develop an action plan to design to help wipe out illiteracy.

Kay, who is also the CEO of the World Literacy Foundation, said: “We need to treat illiteracy as a disease that we are aiming to eradicate. We need to understand that early intervention can avert a lifetime of hardship, poverty and pain for a child, young person or adult who is struggling to read or write,” he said. “The key message of the report is the eradication of illiteracy should be considered an investment rather than a cost.”

“The fact that over 6 million people in the UK are illiterate and many more people struggle to read and write is shocking in 2012. Even worse is the fact that globally, almost 800 million people are illiterate and 100 children don’t attend school each day.

“No matter whether you live in the developed or developing world, poor illiteracy is ruining lives and is linked with an array of poor life outcomes, such as poverty, unemployment, social exclusion, crime and long term illness.”

Dr Tony Cree, chairman of the World Literacy Summit, said: “It’s clear that improved literacy can benefit individuals and transform communities, making a difference to people and giving them a brighter future but we need to work collectively to ensure this happens. Our hope through the World Literacy Summit is to create long-term, sustainable solutions to increase literacy rates, and subsequently facilitate growth and development.  Our aim is to create a road map to eradicate illiteracy by 2020.

“Next week, we will be seeking approval from literacy and development leaders across the world to improve teacher training and monitoring, support effective assessment systems for literacy and increase the gender and socio-economic equity in literacy levels to help end the human tragedy once and for all.”

The summit, which takes places in Oxford April 1-4, will see leaders from government, education and international development meet to address the key theme: “From Poverty, to Literacy, to a future.” On the last day, attendees will map out a plan for making inroads in to wiping out illiteracy, culminating in the “Oxford Declaration.”

The declaration will focus on three key areas including:

Improving teacher quality, training and monitoring - In order to systematically improve literacy there needs to be a commitment to foster strong, well trained, committed teaching forces. High quality teaching is the most powerful determinant of a student’s overall education success and literacy skills.

Supporting effective assessment systems for literacy - Assessment systems at the classroom, local and regional levels allow for student outcomes to be tracked over time and for literacy rates to be compared allowing for targeted interventions to ensure that quality education is reaching all students, including those most marginalized.

Increasing gender and socio-economic equity in literacy levels - Increases in access to education over the last decade mask large disparities across gender, socio-economic status, disability and ethnicity. In particular, girls and children from low-income families are still marginalized and face challenges to accessing and succeeding in school.

A full copy of the World Literacy Foundation’s report “The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy” can be downloaded here.

  • 0

    minello7

    and 100 children don’t attend school each day. ???? Is this a typo error ?

  • 0

    yabits

    Amazing statistic.

    I thought that Japan's literacy rate was in the high 90% range. How can it be that the economic impact to Japan is so high?

  • 0

    some14some

    ... data may not be rosy for literate people either.

  • -3

    Guza!

    When they illitercacy in japan, do they mean read and speak and write japanese? cause i dunno bout you guys but thats a pretty tough language to master =/

  • 8

    hatsoff

    Erm...despite the headline there are only TWO sentences in this whole article that relate to Japan. One is redundant in the context of the article and the other offers no meaningful information.

    A new report released on Thursday shows the social and economic impact of literacy to Japan is $87.78 billion.

    The report’s co-author Andrew Kay says Japan needs to do more to make serious in-roads to addressing the level of illiteracy in the country.

  • 0

    Guza!

    when they say* and i may wana retract my statement bout illiteracy in japan cause the article never said anything bout how bad off or good japan is doing on literacy =/

  • 1

    borscht

    A new report released on Thursday shows the social and economic impact of literacy to Japan is $87.78 billion

    So we should all stop being literate as we are 'impacting' the economy?

    Even worse is the fact that globally, almost 800 million people are illiterate and 100 children don't attend school each day.

    100 children globally don't go to school every day? Wow, sounds like a very good participation rate.

    Maybe I'm being illiterate here but this article has two sentences about Japan and zero details as to how 'literacy' impacts the economy. I agree with Hatsoff on this one.

    I guess we should read this article as another advertisement-as-news article rather than look for any info about Japan. Or maybe this was a test of our literacy levels? I guess I fail.

  • -6

    tmarie

    Hatsoff, glad I wasn't the only one who noticed. This isn't an article about Japan and illiteracy. It is talking about the global problem of it. Japan has one of the best literacy rates in the world. A very, very misleading title and article.

  • 0

    knight_of_Honour

    High School or secondary school should be required by all modern nations. And for adults there should be ways to achieve this as is available in the USA for those who slip through the cracks or do not finish. Mandatory education is required until at least 16 years old or through high school in the USA and adult education is available to all adults in all states. There are tests that allow General Education Development equivalency that are widely accepted, and many or all states have their own version of this that includes state education department issued diplomas for the state tests as well as for the G.E.D. that most states will also accept for state issued high school diplomas. Most community colleges will require students that have these to complete any required courses that have not been completed in high school. Many or all state adult education systems offer classes to prepare for the G.E.D. tests that also prep for the state tests where those are offered. Most jobs in the USA require at least equivalency to a high school education, including fast food restaurants, etc. Most people with a G.E.D. do not realize they may also apply for state diplomas with this test system.

  • 0

    noriyosan73

    Stop the rewards for illiteracy such as a school diploma just for attending, and start with an exit exams in grade 9 (grade 3 in middle school) that demonstrate competency in Math and Japanese (one form of Japanese) starting in 2013. Almost all countries in Europe have it and definitely in the CAHSEE program for seniors in California.

  • -7

    tmarie

    Exams are not the way. There is plenty of research that backs up how teachers only teach to the test - a fine example would be the Japanese education system.

  • 4

    TSRnow

    Curious article indeed. I have read somewhere that Japan's literacy rate is over 99%, so is the influence from the one percent going to add up to $87.78 billion? Or does it mean the world expects Japan to finance programs to boost the rate in other countries? Which is it?

  • -2

    Disillusioned

    No surprises hare when you consider Japan is the only country in the world that uses four alphabets.

  • 2

    zichi

    And you cant imagine what its like?

    Imagine, not even being able to read the No of the bus you want to catch? This is a major disability.

  • 1

    Suginamiguy

    Personally I think the difficulty of Japanese is greatly overrated.

    I had a salesman in my house the other day, as we were doing the contract he actually he asked me how to write several kanji as he had no idea how to write them. I honestly think the illiteracy problem in Japan is understated if anything.

  • -4

    tmarie

    There isn't a problem IN Japan people. Read the the article. Good lord!

  • 1

    JapanGal

    If a kid graduates elementary school here in Japan, they can read a newspaper. Never met anyone here that did not and could not. Stupid article.

  • 0

    japan_cynic

    Elementary school? According to wikipedia, they only complete the jouyou kanji in junior high, which is the normal point of useful literacy.

    My Japanese colleagues are genuinely disbelieving when I say I could (and did) read newspapers before I reached the age of about 10. I cant help but think the dysfunctional writing system here impacts their social and intellectual development. Imagine being unable to read everyday materials up to the age of 16!

  • 0

    Maiko_Toyama

    tmarieMAR. 29, 2012 - 03:32PM JST There isn't a problem IN Japan people. Read the the article. Good lord!

    We can see that. Why are we being yelled at?

  • 1

    rmistric

    japan_cynic I cant help but think the dysfunctional writing system here impacts their social and intellectual development.

    Why is the Japanese writing system dysfunctional? Obviously different than some other languages but that doesn't mean it's dysfunctional.

    Don't the Chinese also use kanji? What about other languages that don't primarily use the Latin alphabet for their writing systems? Are they dysfunctional as well?

  • -3

    japan_cynic

    I think that any system that effectively prevents children from reading everyday sources of information such as newspapers before they reach the age of about 15-16 is not fit for purpose.

  • 2

    yagura

    japan_cynicMAR. 29, 2012 - 04:48PM JST I think that any system that effectively prevents children from reading everyday sources of information such as newspapers before they reach the age of about 15-16 is not fit for purpose.

    I don't think it effectively prevents them from doing so. Perhaps the subject matter is just not as interesting to them as other things. When I was 10 I didn't spend too much time going through the paper everyday. Doesn't mean I couldn't read it, just read things I was interested in. Also, these kids could be getting the same information the paper provides from other sources.

    I not going to say that every Japanese 10 year old can read every single character appearing in a newspaper without any difficulty at all. But, I'd imagine that those that do try are capable of either figuring out by themselves (i.e. look up) or asking somebody else (perhaps a parent or teacher) how to read a certain character. I don't it is kanji is that is necessarily retarding their intellectual development.

    Just curious. What would you propose that the Japanese use instead of kanji? Roma-ji? English?

  • -3

    DoLittleBeLate

    I seriously doubt that not being able to read Japanese newspapers (such as Yomiuri) would hinder in any way the spread and accumulation of accurate information.

  • 1

    Reinaert Albrecht

    And Japantoday still doesn't know how to properly link a website. Digital illiteracy? Please, when are you going to learn the wonders of the a-tag in HTML?

  • -1

    japan_cynic

    It's not just newspapers of course - it is basically everything that is not specifically rewritten for a young and/or semi-literate audience. Sure, they can probably manage train stations and road signs.

  • -2

    japan_cynic

    They could obviously write in hiragana if they wanted - in fact they already do for children. South Korea changed to phonetics some time ago. (People obviously speak phonetically, so the argument about kanji being needed to deal with homonyms doesn't hold much water.)

  • 3

    yagura

    I guess they could use only hiragana. Personally, I think that would just make things more confusing since it would might be hard in some cases to distinguish where one word ends and another begins. It might make easier to read each individual character but make it harder to understand what is being written.

    Maybe that would be an interesting experiment. Replace all of the kanji and katakana used in a newspaper with hiragana, give that paper to a bunch of 10 year olds, and see how many understand what they are reading.

  • -1

    mitoguitarman

    Perhaps the ridiculous use of four writing systems has something to do with this problem.

  • 0

    Oz_Monster

    Japantoday please do a bit of research and understand the article before creating your headlines. Its should read
    "Literacy adds $87.78 billion to Japan economy". Japan has a 99% literacy rate which makes the headline absurd and totally wrong. What the article is saying is that literacy can be attributed to creating $87.78 billion to Japan economy, not the opposite.

  • 0

    rmistric

    mitoguitarmanMAR. 29, 2012 - 09:13PM JST Perhaps the ridiculous use of four writing systems has something to do with this problem.

    The fact that over 6 million people in the UK are illiterate and many more people struggle to read and write is shocking in 2012.

    How many writing systems does the UK use? I can only think of one.

    Japan's literacy rate is generally considered to be 99%. The UK's literacy rate is also generally considered to be 99%. Why isn't Japan's literacy rate lower than the UK ? If too many writing systems is a problem then a greater percentage of Japanese should be illiterate, right?

  • 0

    Scrote

    Never mind illiteracy, innumeracy is clearly the problem here. If we accept that 99% of Japanese are literate (this is the usual figure bandied around), then the remaining 1%, or about 1.3 million people, supposedly cost the economy $87.78 billion per year, or $67523 per person.

    Japanese GDP per person is about $34000. If illiterate people are less productive, their average GDP will be lower. Suppose they only find menial work with an average GDP of $17000: that's a "cost" to the economy of $22.1 billion per year. But these menial jobs would still need to be done, even if illiteracy were eliminated. The job of waving a stick at roadworks doesn't pay any more if you can read more kanji. I think that as long as illiteracy is kept below a certain level, e.g < 1%, the cost to the economy is small.

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