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Literacy Rates and Developing Countries

  1. Dec 6, 2012 #1
    I think it was back in high school when I read this but I remember seeing a statistic which strongly suggest that higher standards of living resulted from high literacy rates. (Which was the cause and which was the effect was considered controversial I believe.)

    The other day I was brainstorming philanthropic ideas while having my Macbook Pro read me some articles from the internet and it hit me. What if for the first time in human history an entire civilization could become literate practically overnight with the help of technology. Developing nations might be able to skip a whole world of growing pains if instead of investing in schools to teach people to read, they just made an E-reader with "speech to text" software available to everyone, saving both time and money (when compared to investing in an education system).

    I mean the plan isn't Ideal but neither is an illiterate population. What are your thoughts on the matter?

    Can anyone find an easy-read statistic which correlates standard of living and literacy rates?

    hears the Wikipedia link for world literacy rates.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2012 #2


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    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    IMO, a text-to-speech engine is not a substitute for actual literacy.
  4. Dec 6, 2012 #3
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    The biggest factor in raising standards of living in the most impoverished parts of the world is women's rights. Many places still forbid women to earn a living much less to learn how to read and these are cultural problems rather than educational ones. Even in the US, the wealthiest country in the world, women still earn 83c on the dollar for the same work as men and that's up from 64c on the dollar just half a century ago.

    One of the best ways to address the problem is by improving communications in general rather than literacy per se. That includes cellphones and cheap tablet PCs which are spreading like wildfire and internet access worldwide is expected to as much as double in the next ten years. The remaining issue is how to continue lowering costs and implement such communications in the most impoverished and isolated countries, however, those are mostly just technical issues and not economic ones. The costs continue to plummet, the technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds, and the demand to soar.
  5. Dec 6, 2012 #4
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Thanks for the comment but, I think that is a very general statement and also think that it is incorrect. Actual literacy is just a tool invented by men for communication purposes, and so is speech to text, I don't see why every human would have to learn to read in order to get the same information so long as "text to speech" is available. I myself use it to compensate for my poor literacy and have no intention of improving my reading ability because "speech to text" can read information to me faster then most people can read by themselves.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  6. Dec 6, 2012 #5
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Thanks for the comment, are there statistics to support this? It would be very interesting indeed if this was the case.
  7. Dec 6, 2012 #6
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    The biggest factor in standard of living is providing electricity and basic lighting to people.

    Currently over 1.3 Billion people have no electricity at all and 3 Billion people cook with wood, charcoal, tree leaves, crop residues, coal and animal waste. 300 million households rely on kerosene or other fuel lanterns as their only source of light. How are you going to give people an e-reader who do not have a way to charge it?

    That 1.3 Billion is people who have no "access" to electricity the definition from the IEA is

    That is 2.2% of the power we have and we do not know how many Billions have access to just over that threshold value.

    Cheap power and abundant energy are the keys to improving standard of living any other route is a fairy tale. Energy was the key to the first world becoming the first world.

    http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment/accesstoelectricity/ [Broken]
    And a useful blog post by a professor in Colorado Dr. R Pielke Jr.

    Kersone lanterns info form UC berkely
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Dec 6, 2012 #7
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Having a light bulb to cook by and small refrigerator will help, but won't change their living standard in the long run. The people I'm talking about often live in mud huts and tin shacks in the middle of nowhere. They are the poorest of the poor who are lucky if they make $2.oo a day and the issue is how to help them pull themselves up by their bootstraps as best as possible. Communications system are cheap and don't require the kind of power that a light bulb much less a refrigerator does.

    Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, produce half of the world's food, but earn only 10% of the world's income and own less than one percent of the world's property. On average, women earn half of what men earn.... Women make up 70% of the world's one billion poorest people.


    Even in the US single mothers are twice as likely to be poor as single fathers and the average wage for women has dropped to 77c on the dollar for the same work as men. That's not an issue of the availability of cheap power and now the US has the second highest child poverty rates in the developed world as a result of this and it's gross income inequality distribution despite it's excellent infrastructure.

    Perhaps the most famous example of how empowering women overcomes destitute poverty comes from Grameen Bank. It's a micro-lending bank that only loans money to women and instead of charging interest the women work for the bank to pay off the interest. The reason they only lend money to women is the women actually pay it back, while men often don't. Where women are not empowered to earn a living they have among the highest birth rates as well as poverty rates.


    The same kind of phenomena exists in countless other countries like Afghanistan where it is culturally acceptable for men to use and abuse women like so many slaves or cattle. With access to education and income earning labor restricted only to men the poverty rates shoot through the roof. The poorest countries in the world today are all either conflict zones or have the worst women's rights records or both. That's according to the UN and Amnesty International and, again, it has nothing to do with access to electricity.

    What it does have to do with is institutionalized bigotry and cultural isolation.

    The most extreme examples were perhaps those documented in parts of Africa. Women in isolated villages were not empowered to earn a living, so they had more children instead. The children were then sent out to fetch water and fuel and as the water and fuel in the immediate area became scarce the women had more children so they walk longer distances to fetch what was needed. Eventually a drought or something would cause the whole system to collapse as fuel and water simply became unobtainable and they would starve to death en mass. This is similar to a fish pond ecology where the fish simply overpopulate the pond until the entire system collapses from lack of resources. The question is how to break the cycle and promote something both sustainable and progressive.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Dec 6, 2012 #8
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    I have one problem with most of this Standard of Living and Income are 2 very different things if you live in a subsistence community and women produce half the food they make half the income because in that case food is income. That is why standard of living is defined by what you have not what you "earn" things like food and shelter are included but also amenities like how you cook and light your home do you have healthcare is there basic rule of law. Just being "poor" says nothing about standard of living hell just saying poor is next to useless because everyone defines it differently.

    In the US "poor" is based on some arbitrary amount of income with no relation to standard of living. You can win the lottery and live in a mansion and be poor if you paid for the home in cash and did not invest anything and just stuffed it under a mattress to live off of you would be poor because you have no income.

    standard of living
    n. pl. standards of living
    A level of material comfort as measured by the goods, services, and luxuries available to an individual, group, or nation.

    Nothing about income empowering women is great but you can have a high stand of living and still no women's rights they are not mutually exclusive. You can not have a high standard of living with out access to energy period. Also access to energy frees up time for women to advance themselves leading to all of the things you wish. Electric pumps bringing water to the home alone can save countless hours. Once the women have time on their hands they often begin self improvement which drives the movement towards equal rights.

    Improving standard of living allows all the things in your post to happen not the other way around.
  10. Dec 6, 2012 #9
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. Dec 6, 2012 #10
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    And will this also power the internet they need to download things to read on this e-reader they now have?

    What satellite modems and wifi or cell towers and free 3g? all solar?

    If I cooked with cow dung and had no other source of light in my hut and you gave me a solar panel to charge an e-reader I would laugh at you and ask if I could have a hotplate/individual stove burner and a light bulb instead. Then again that panel will not power a stove it takes 10-15 hours of sunlight to store enough power to charge your phone.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Dec 6, 2012 #11
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Isn't it possible that the worlds most impoverished countries treat women so disrespectfully because of there ignorance and therefore making women's rights the result of a healthy society not the cause of one? I mean, I don't see how women's rights would be a turning point in an impoverished country, economically. Just because the societies with the highest standard of living do have women's rights, it doesn't mean that women's rights cause healthy nations. It is possible that the reverse is true consequently negating your argument.
  13. Dec 6, 2012 #12
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    One may have to take a trip to the market to download the daily newspaper or maybe a delivery system could be developed, is that not the same system we had before the internet came along? All software used to be bought in a store and newspapers used to be bought there, too.

    I don't see your point about the charger thing, a kindle-keyboard battery can last for ten days, one day to charge it every week is not unreasonable.

    Also, If you show that person in the hut how to use the e-reader to teach themselves things they will be able to help-themselves and others in there community much more then a single stove burner ever could. Solutions to large scale poverty lay in teaching people how to help themselves not just giving them a stove burner and saying "hear you go".
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  14. Dec 6, 2012 #13
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    IF they need to spend an hour a day going to get water and 6 hours a week gathering cow patties for fuel in addition to finding food how much time will they have to be reading?

    The stove and a fuel supply save them time and improve living conditions free time assets for other work.

    I agree giving e-readers to people is more efficient then teaching them to read but unless the people have other needs met efficiently enough to allow free time to indulge in "read-listening" its useless. I have access to all kinds of knowledge that I would love to have but I do not have the time in my day to day life to pursue it. Find a way to tele-port and it will free up 2 hours of my day and I will finish grad school. Until then work and my 8 month old take all my time.

    I can't imagine what a struggle life is with out electricity and needing to literally eat all you can grow and gather. Available energy creates efficiency which frees time to improve oneself and living conditions. Literacy does not become an issue until you have the luxury of time to read.
  15. Dec 6, 2012 #14


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    Gold Member

    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    While I can see the benefits of what you propose, your solution actually circumvents literacy rather than producing it. Literacy, by definition, is the ability to read and write.
  16. Dec 6, 2012 #15
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Basically I am saying higher lietarcy rate does mean higher standard of living BUT you need to get up to a certain standard of living before it matter at all so:

    Literacy rate Y
    Standrad of living X

    X= x+Y if X >50

    At least 1.3 Billion people are at "X<50" I find that as a higher priority issue then Literacy in the in-between stage people. Lets get everyone up to that imaginary "50" value then worry about teaching the world to read or providing reading devices. IMO
  17. Dec 6, 2012 #16
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Agreed, thanks for the correction.
  18. Dec 6, 2012 #17
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    First semantic splitting of hairs over the meaning of poverty and now questions about whether the chicken or the egg came first. I've already provided links to reputable websites including the UN which claim gender equality reduces poverty rates. However, if you like I can also recommend websites on how to make a rational argument and avoid logical fallacies and conspiracy theories.
  19. Dec 6, 2012 #18
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    I agree but, if we get the nations which are at that point (X=50) to start using a "speech to text" system then that countries economy will develop faster. More economic development usually leads to more economic development. It is possible and rather likely that the initial country which was barely at X=50 becomes X=100 and helps spur other nations (or areas) around it to the X=50 mark. From there a domino effect takes over and in the end, I think it might get more people to the X=50 mark faster than any other system currently proposed.
  20. Dec 6, 2012 #19


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    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    Hi JonDrew,

    I believe the predicament you're in now is that your premise needs to change.

    Originally, your premise was that an increase in literacy produces an increase in standard of living. Since you're looking for ways to produce higher standards of living by avoiding literacy, you'd need to find studies that show literacy is not correlated to standard of living and go from there. Additionally, it would help to show that an increase in information alone produces an increase in standard of living.
  21. Dec 6, 2012 #20
    Re: Literacy Rate's and Developing Countries

    I disagree, I think the two (literacy rates and "speech to text" implementation) are so closely related that substituting the statistics for literacy rates and standard of living would be sufficient. I've seen much farther stretches work when analyzing other econometrics. I agree that what ever results I find on the topic might need to be taken with a grain of salt but that is how statistics are meant to be read anyway, thanks for the suggestion.
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