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Finland No. 1: Scandinavia tops new list of world’s most literate nations

A new study released by Central Connecticut State University last week finds the Scandinavian countries including Finland, Norway and Denmark are the most literate on earth, with the United States only managing No. 7 out of 61 nations included in the study.

Finland is ranked No. 1 in CCSU’s World’s Most Literate Nations study, due in no small part to its world-class education system that stresses cooperative learning and exploration over rote learning. The overview by CCSU researchers John W. Miller and Michael C. McKenna  states the study isn’t meant to rank countries by mere ability to read but by “literate behaviors” such as reading newspapers, using computers and, of course, soaking up knowledge at school.

The five categories Miller and McKenna use to determine literacy are: libraries, newspapers, education inputs and outputs, and computer availability.

RTR48JNH-1024x638From the overview:

The power and value of being literate in a literate society is played out every day around the world. Many individuals, and even whole societies, make considerable sacrifices to become literate just as others take it for granted. Societies that do not practice literate behavior are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal, and harsh.

In fact, what the WMLN rankings strongly suggest and World Literacydemonstrates 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.

The top 10 on the World’s Most Literate Nations list are:

  1. Finland
  2. Norway
  3. Iceland
  4. Denmark
  5. Sweden
  6. Switzerland
  7. United States
  8. Germany
  9. Latvia
  10. Netherlands

The lowest ranked of the 61 countries is Botswana. But some European countries did poorly … very poorly, indeed. The lowest-ranked European country that made the list – some were excluded because they didn’t meet the CCSU criteria –is Croatia. Nations in the south and east of Europe had sub-par performances as a group. They include Romania at No. 41, Greece at No. 40 and Spain at No. 35.

One could argue placing atop the list of  the 61 most literate nations correlates to gross domestic product or per-capital income. (We looked up Iceland, and the per-capital income is $41,000! Who knew …. ) The exception to that would be Latvia, which is No. 97 in the world ranked by GDP, and No. 51 ranked by GDP per capita. The puzzler is Luxembourg, which goes back and forth with Switzerland as the nation with the highest per-capital income. The tiny but super-wealthy duchy spends the most – by a mile – on education, yet manages only No. 13 on the World’s Most Literate Nations list, one ranking ahead of Estonia.

The CCSU researchers address that point in their findings. “There are virtually no meaningful correlations between the input measures  and the output measures, whether rank order correlations or raw score correlations are calculated,” they write. So you know, input measures means money spent, and output measures is academic-speak for results achieved.

So, as we all know, smart doesn’t always equal successful. While Finland may lead the world in education, that braininess hasn’t kept the country from skating on the thin ice of recession.

On Saturday, Reuters quoted Finland’s Finance Minister Alexander Stubb as calling his country “the new sick man of Europe” because its economy has never returned to 2008 levels, stuck in the Great Recession. The European Commission projects Finland’s economy will expand by a mere 0.5 percent this year, less than any other country in the European Union except Greece. Finland’s unemployment rate is stuck at about 10 percent.

Latvia has a similar unemployment rate. Both countries are digital innovation centers, with Finnish companies such as Supercell ruling the gaming roost. Finland also owns several U.S. innovators such as Bell Labs. Latvia, which has total population of 2 million, has a digital scene still in its infancy. BUT, it has a number of hot startups including social media site, which has greater penetration in Latvia than Facebook.

Here’s how our friends at CCSU came up with their rankings:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 5.56.45 AMThe World’s Most Literate Nations (WMLN) is a descriptive study of rank orders created from a collection of variables of two kinds: those related to tested literacy achievement and those representing examples of literate behaviors. The latter include 15 variables grouped under five categories, including Libraries, Newspapers, Education System – Inputs, Education System – Outputs, and Computer Availability, as well as population, which is used for establishing per capita ratios, where appropriate.

You can read the complete methodology here.

There’s also a companion book, “Literacy: How Countries Rank and Why It Matters,”  by Miller and McKenna, with an extended analysis from the WMLN study. (Click here for more information.)

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