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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
UK's 'serious' adult literacy problems
books on shop shelves
Many people in the UK never read books
A large proportion of adults in the UK have "serious literacy problems", a report says.

The UK has been placed in the bottom half of a 20-nation survey of adult reading and literacy standards.

But researchers found it topped the list when it came to the amount of time people spend watching television.

The report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) studies literacy levels in 20 developed countries.

It says that Ireland, the United States, Switzerland, Canada and Australia are among other countries where large numbers of adults have poor literacy skills.

Sweden top, Chile bottom

The report, called Literacy in the Information Age, says literacy skills are essential for successful integration into today's "knowledge-based" economy.

But it says: "Actual levels of literacy in many countries, including both developed and developing countries, are far from satisfactory."

The survey puts Sweden at the top and Chile at the bottom of three literacy categories.

The UK is ranked 14th out of 20 in a list charting the percentage of 16 to 65-year-olds who read a book at least once a month.

But it boasts the largest proportion of people in the same age category - 60% - who say they watch television for more than two hours a day.

The report says: "Countries differ markedly in the literacy of adult populations- but none does so well that it has no literacy problems."

Basic skills strategy

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the government was "well aware of the problem".

Last year, a working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser, Chairman of the Basic Skills Agency, published a report on the standards of adult basic skills.

The report indicated that one fifth of adults in England had severe problems with basic literacy and numeracy, and called for a "national crusade" to tackle the problem.

The government is taking steps to improve the situation, and last month details of classes to teach adults basic skills, including how to read the phone book and check their change in shops, were launched.

The DfEE spokesman said the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, would announce the government's full national strategy for tackling poor basic skills later this year.

  • The 20 countries included in the OECD survey were: Australia, Belgium (Flanders), Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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    Basic skills for adult learners
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