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Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK


Illiteracy rate detracts from education progress

A global comparison of living standards shows the UK improving

High levels of illiteracy in the United Kingdom have undermined progress elsewhere in the education system, says a United Nations report.

Dr Richard Jolly, author of a United Nations Development Programme report comparing standards of living in the world's nations, has ranked the UK ahead of many of its European neighbours, in part because of improvements in its education services.

But the 22% of the UK population evaluated as illiterate - a figure described by Dr Jolly as "a real shocker" - means that any advances in education are overshadowed by this persistent weakness.

A stronger performance in education has helped the UK to rise from 14th place last year to 10th in 1999, beating France (11th), Switzerland (12th), Germany (14th), Austria (16th), Italy (19th) and Ireland (20th), in a league table based on levels of education, health and income.

"In OECD data Britain scores very poorly, with functional illiteracy of 22%, which is almost as high as the US and a real shocker."

He added: "There is nothing to write home about in British education. The kids are in school but the quality is not great as the OECD figures show."

Gap between rich and poor

Canada came top of the poll for the sixth successive year, with Norway beating the US into third place.

The report highlighted the immense gap between rich and poor around the globe with the bottom 22 of the 174 countries examine all in Africa, with Sierra Leone placed last.

It found the top 20% of the world's population earned 74 times as much as the bottom 20%. In 1960 it was just 30 times as much.

The 10 most prosperous countries were:

    1 Canada
    2 Norway
    3 United States
    4 Japan
    5 Belgium
    6 Sweden
    7 Australia
    8 Netherlands
    9 Iceland
    10 Britain.

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