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EU laments lingering illiteracy

September 7, 2012

One in five EU citizens has insufficient writing and reading skills for their day-to-day lives, a new study ordered by the European Commission has found. The data is tied to UNESCO's International Literacy Day.

"Alphabetti Spaghetti" © Klaus Eppele
Image: Klaus Eppele - Fotolia.com

The study said that the roughly 20 percent of people in the EU lacking key literacy skills should serve as an "alarm signal." The authors said that only well-educated people who had completed basic schooling would be able to find a job and contribute to economic growth.

"Governments spend too little money on promoting literacy, although education is a human right," said the secretary general of the German UNESCO commission, Roland Bernecker.

The report said that investing in education would bear direct fruit, with improved literacy and numeracy skills likely translating into improved economic output for a country. The EU could boost its gross domestic product by billions in this way, the experts said.

The study highlighted several possible areas of improvement for a developed country like Germany, including extra teachers, better libraries with more state-of-the-art media, improved illiteracy awareness and extra help for families with immigrant backgrounds. They also stressed that the issue should not be confined to the classroom - also putting the onus on households, workplaces and the media.

EU targets already set

European education ministers have already set a target to improve the literacy and numeracy of young people approaching school-leaving age. The goal is to reduce the number of 15-year-olds in the bloc with reading or writing shortcomings from 20 to 15 percent by 2020. Germany is just below the current 20-percent average, with around 18.5 percent of young people displaying literacy weaknesses. In contrast to worldwide illiteracy figures, young boys are twice as likely to have such problems as young girls.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, 775 million people around the world cannot read or write. Most of them live in southern or western Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa, while around two thirds of them are female.

September 8 is UNESCO's International Literacy Day.

msh/pfd (dpa, epd, KNA)