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Illiteracy Continues to Decline

The illiteracy rate has continued its decline in China, though challenges remain for women, farmers and ethnic minorities, a senior official said yesterday.

"Since 2000, the number of illiterate people has declined by an average of 2 million per year," State Councillor Chen Zhili told a two-day Asia-Pacific regional conference in support of literacy, which opened in Beijing yesterday.

In the decade following 1990, China lifted 46.5 million people out of illiteracy.

The country has fought illiteracy by promoting the nine-year compulsory education policy, particularly in rural areas, where 90 percent of the country's illiterate people live, Chen said.

She added that in 2005, the government spent more than 356 billion yuan (US$46.1 billion) on the nine-year compulsory education system, up 106 percent from the previous year.

The efforts of the private sector and non-governmental organizations in the fight to eliminate illiteracy and to provide training to farmers have also improved the situation.

With its strong commitment and innovative measures, China has championed the fight against illiteracy, Mark Richmond, director for UNESCO's coordination of United Nations priorities in education, told China Daily at the conference.

"The government has made literacy a national priority," Richmond said.

He praised China's efforts to enroll and keep school-aged children at school.

"Once you can stop the flow of young people who are not able to go to school, you can improve literacy," he said.

China's willingness to offer financial assistance and share good practices with other developing countries is encouraging, he added.

"China's models that emphasize government efforts are very interesting to regions where most of the literacy improvement work has been carried at the grassroots level," he said.

Illiteracy is a world issue - 774 million adults, two-thirds of them women - cannot read and write.

More than 72 million school-age children are not in school, according to the latest figures from UNESCO.

In China, illiteracy is still a problem.

There are more than 80 million illiterates at or above 15 years old. And 72.7 percent of the total is women, according to statistics from the Fifth National Census in 2000, the latest figures available.

The adult illiteracy rate in China is 9.08 percent, according to the census.

By comparison, the world level is 20.3 percent, and the figure for the Asia-Pacific region is 8.3 percent.

"China's illiterate population sounds like it's quite large," said Richmond.

"But it is very difficult to completely solve problems like this, even for developed countries. I have confidence in China."

To achieve the target of reducing the adult illiteracy rate to less than 40 million people by 2015, the county is taking further actions to educate women, ethnic minorities and migrant workers, Yang Jin, deputy director-general of the Department of Basic Education at the Ministry of Education, said at the press conference yesterday.

(China Daily August 1, 2007)

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