“Knowledge has a beginning but not an end”, quotes Geeta S. Iyengar. What is knowledge to all of us? If asked this question, it will have answers reaching different horizons and corners. You may call the knowing of the unknown knowledge. But, you may also call swimming deep into a subject knowledge. Frank Herbert quotes, “The beginning of knowledge is discovering something we do not understand.” Perhaps, this is why we started perceiving knowledge and literacy in ambivalent ways. We began our thirst for knowledge by learning small things like watching a plant grow and discovering and invent incredible inventions. Literacy is an essential factor for all nations to grow and step forward with time. In general, literacy is defined as the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute by using the written materials and associating them with varying contexts. Illiteracy not only leaves a nation on tenterhooks, but it invariably endangers a person’s stages in life. As a child, the person will fail to pass school. It will then grow to lack job opportunities in adulthood.
Further, in life, the person would fail to support a family and afford a healthy lifestyle. For a nation, they are withdrawn from social mobility and the formation of a developed society. Lack of education will take away the opportunities from the citizens to move out to different corners of the world and create a foreign interaction to progress. This will also lead to the prevalence of outdated thinking and superstitious beliefs that will only hinder the thinking of societies to look at development.
With time, nations have perceived literacy in different ways. It can be about excelling manpower for one nation, and for others, it might be about launching new inventions. For literacy to be different in every nation, various factors lead to it. It is due to the financial ability of a country, time devotion, the value associated with education in a country, and sorting out of education in a country. Let’s look at the different nations, what literacy means to them and how they had planned to execute them.
Literacy in the United States of America
Let’s begin with understanding education in the most powerful nation in the world. For the United States of America, literacy and education have changed drastically over the years. Previously, literacy in the USA was the ability of an American to be at least able to read at least one simple sentence. However, today, literacy in the USA is the ability to utilize written or printed information, attain one’s set goals, and raise one’s knowledge and potentiality. The literacy survey in the USA is conducted by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). The NAAL has defined three types of literacy, on which the general population of America is surveyed. The three types of classified literacy are:
Prose Literacy: It refers to the ability and knowledge to solve prose tasks such as news articles, editorials, reports, etc.
Document Literacy: refers to the ability and knowledge to sort out documental works like forms, applications, etc
Quantitative Literacy: It refers to the ability and knowledge to sort out quantitative works. For e.g.: Managing checkbooks, computations, etc.
To increase the rate of literacy in the country, the USA has been continuously funded by external authorities and by governmental fundings to carry out the policies and initiatives.
Literacy in South Korea
South Korea has a potent blend of Confucian culture in its education and literacy system. After the Japanese oppression, which had left the South Koreans with 78% of illiteracy in 1945, the country began to rearrange its education system with various reforms. The introduction of the Basic Education Law passed in 1949, and the commencement of the National Strategic Plan for education in 1962 made education mandatory for elementary and middle school children. By the end of 1970, South Korea managed to climb the literacy rate by 87.6%. South Korea highly perceives that education is the means for the country to skim on the progress and develop their socio-economic situation. The government in South Korea has allocated 19.8% of the government’s central budget to education in the country. Additionally, South Korea invests 5.1% of its trillion digit GDP in educating 11 billion students. South Korea is among the top-performing OECD countries in reading literacy, mathematics, and sciences. The country is also prominently known for its “education fever”. Due to this, the people of South Korea believe that attaining academic status is their gateway for social mobility, well-paid job opportunities, choosing the best career paths, and bringing them the best marriage prospects.
Literacy in India
India is a land where a multitude of diversity thrives. The existence of the Indian education system can be traced back to the preachings and teachings of religious scriptures. Earlier, the people began educating themselves with the different religious and traditional works. With the entry of the colonizers, India’s education system went into the hands of the British. The curriculums changed, and India was forced to adopt what the colonizers preached. Due to this, there were conflicts and instructions by the people who simply did not want their roots to fade away. Post Independence, education in India shifted, and the major concern for the leaders was to increase the literacy rate of the nation. The first significant step was making education compulsory for the citizens aged between 6 to 14 years old. This policy was further enshrined in the Constitution of India. With the results from the census, India saw a literacy growth of 74.04 in 2011. Literacy has also been a challenge in India due to various factors, such as social, political, gender biases, and many more. However, the nation continuously sees a growth in the female literacy rate, which is core for family planning and population stabilization. As per the census results in 2011, the growth for female literacy stood at 11.8% compared to growth in male literacy rate, which stands at 6.9%. This indicates that Indian literacy is finally on its way to socio-economic progress.
Literacy in Finland
When it is about knowing nations and their perception of literacy, Finland cannot be missed. About 40 years ago, Finland had decided to transform its literacy format mainly to serve its economic prosperity. Finland has allocated a few teachers in its schools, with few students, so that the process of individual attention to each student is given. Every child in Finland receives a special kind of help for nine years from their teachers. This helps the students sort out what field they are good in and pursue them in the future. Due to this, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2002 had revealed the Finnish youth to be the best readers. In 2003, PISA’s results again showed Finland to be the best at sciences. Finland also inculcates no rankings, no comparisons, or competitions amongst the students, allowing them to grow at their own pace. There is only one exam at the end of senior year. The best thing about the literacy structure of Finland is that the government funds all the educational initiatives, and the government has all educators rather than politicians or military leaders.
These are some of the perceptions of literacy by different nations. Literacy is the focal point for governments to develop. It is also influenced by cultures, which firmly accept education to be the reason for prosperity. Today, nations have also moved forward from their traditional views of education. It is no longer about scoring the highest marks but applying your knowledge practically and solving realities ahead in life. It is no longer about procuring knowledge but also knowing the right actions where you can use them. The nations are also educating people to understand that literacy is something that can carry them to places and at the same time ensure that the coming generation has it to further walk for progress. Literacy is the stepping stone for nations to forge a healthy competition, where growth is universal. It is to change the world, but only for the better. It is how the prominent leader Nelson Mandela calls it, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”