The 10 Most Literate Countries in the World (Nope, the U.S. Isn’t No. 1)


By Liz Dwyer for

In late February, when President Obama selected Carol Hayden, head of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, to run the Library of Congress, he lauded her commitment to boosting the community’s use of the facility and providing patrons with greater access to computers. Hayden’s focus might also get a thumbs-up from the authors of a new study that ranks 61 countries from most to least literate.

The study, led by John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, examined several factors, such as Internet and library resources, newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, years of schooling, and literacy scores on standardized tests. According to those criteria, Finland—known for its High-performing education system—is the world’s most literate nation.

Miller has spent the past 40 years studying literacy and in 2003 teamed up with the university’s Center for Public Policy and Social Research to produce an annual report, America’s Most Literate Cities. With 781 million illiterate people around the globe, according to the United Nations, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Miller and his team broadened their lens beyond the United States.

“The factors we examine present a complex and nuanced portrait of a nation’s cultural vitality,” said Miller in a statement. “And what the rankings strongly suggest and world literacy demonstrates is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economies that define our global future.”

Miller’s team set out to analyze data for 200 countries but was only able to find reliable information for the 61 profiled in the study. No nation from central Africa is included. Other Nordic countries—Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden—round out the top five spots in the ranking because “their monolithic culture values reading,” said Miller. Meanwhile, the United States came in seventh. Botswana ranked last, while Colombia, Morocco, Thailand, and Indonesia rounded out the bottom five.

Read more here.

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