Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Abysmal literacy levels

The other day a study was released by UNLA (the Italian "National Union for the Fight against Illiteracy") about the level of education and literacy in Italy. It paints a hair-raising picture. The study is an analysis of the latest census data, which dates back to 2001. The key findings:
  1. Almost six million people (about 12% of the population) are either totally illiterate or hold no diploma of any kind (i.e. they have not even completed elementary school).
  2. Amazingly, just under 36 million people (about 66% of the population) have not obtained a high school diploma, meaning that their level of education does not enable them to fully interact with society.
  3. Only about four million people (7.5% of the population) have a college degree.
I could not find the actual report, and it is not clear what portion of the population is included in these figures. The Istat (Italian census bureau) statistics on literacy absurdly start with six-year-olds. According to La Stampa the illiterate population is mostly "old." However Il Giornale specifically says that the study only includes people under 70, while the numbers for older people are significantly worse. In any case it is particularly alarming that the situation is getting better only very slowly: the number of college graduates has increased by only 1.19% in the past decade (and the literacy level of students coming out of junior high school does not bode well for the future).
For all those Italians who for some reason are convinced that Italy has a great system of public education (which is true - to a limited extent - if you go through with it) it will be sobering to know that among the 30 OECD countries we rank third-to-last in literacy and educational attainment, ahead only of Portugal and Mexico.

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