The number of illiterates in China grew by more than 30 million between 2000
and 2005 despite its efforts to eradicate illiteracy, a senior official has
Though over 9.75 million adults learnt to read and write during this period,
the number of illiterates in the country rose to 116 million, said Gao Xuegui,
director of the illiteracy eradication office of the basic education department
of the Ministry of Education.
The number of illiterates in China accounted for 11.3 percent of the world's
total in 2000, right after India, and 15.01 percent in 2005. That means many
people who had come out of the illiteracy trap forgot what they learnt.
"The situation is worrying," Gao said. "Illiteracy is not only a matter of
education, but also has a great social impact."
China defines literacy as the ability to read and write at least 1,500
"Given the increase in the number of illiterates, the country may not be able
to meet its target of a 50-percent reduction in its illiterate population by
2015 as projected by UNESCO," said China National Institute for Educational
Research scholar Guo Hongxia.
A worrying factor, as Gao said, is the changing demography of illiterates in
For instance, the western regions now have only about 40 million illiterates.
In contrast, the central and eastern parts, which have a high population
density, account for two-thirds of them, with 9.63 million being in Shandong
A major reason for the rebound in the illiterate population is the changing
perception of knowledge in the market economy. Farmers today can earn money by
working as laborers, too. So they tend to ignore the nine-year compulsory
education despite having access to it, Gao said.
Another factor that ironically contributed to the increase in the illiteracy
rate is the success of the illiteracy eradication campaign of the previous years
because that led many local governments to "eradicate" the departments in charge
of the program itself, Gao said.
But despite the setback, the illiteracy eradication office is determined to
fulfill its mission, for which it's seeking 100 million-yuan ($12.9 million)
The existing budget of 8 million yuan ($1.03 million), it says, is not enough
because it allots a paltry 0.07 yuan (or less than 1 cent) to each illiterate
The extra money, the office says, will be used to build a team of illiteracy
eradication professionals on government payroll and to offer subsidy to
Projects to eradicate illiteracy among 80 million women and the ethnic
minorities are already under way.
But some local governments haven't shown a long-term commitment to the
program, with a few even trying to bend the rules, said Wu Qing, honorary
councilor of Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women, an NGO that
helps with the literacy campaign.
(China Daily 04/02/2007 page1)