The growth and determinants of literacy in china Unit


Thegrowth and determinants of literacy in china


Thearticle “the growth and determinants of literacy in China” byDonald Treiman in the book “Education and Reform in China” editedby EmilyHannum and Albert Park is a report of a study by the author carriedout by the author using 1996 data on literacy levels in the country.The outstanding issue presented in the paper is the claim thateducation alone does not determine literacy levels. This is veryinteresting given that the growth of China as a country and otherdeveloped countries is hinged on high literacy levels and advancededucation systems in those countries. Does this mean that the Chinesegovernments need to look at other factors in its attempts to improveliteracy levels in the country, a factor that is very important foreconomic development and welfare improvement? Through the data usedin the study, a sample of Chinese adults aged 20-69 years wasrequiredto identify a set of ten Chinese characters. It is revealed that someadults with as low as three years of education could not identify anycharacter but some could identify as many as six characters (60%)which also was the medium number among university graduates.

Thiscould mean that the quality of Chinese education is very low, goingby the 1996 data used such that literacy levels of universitygraduates remain relatively low or that there are other factorsplaying a major role literacy level among such adults with minimaleducation. To explain this, the author highlights other factors thatinfluence literacy such as neighborhood (rural or urban) culturalcapital of family, occupation of parents and preference of boy childto girl child in the country- higher survival level of boy child andhigher education levels of males. The author concludes that the1966-77 Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong though effective inchanging the educational systems could have affected literacy levelsnegatively as those, or should have been, in school then lost a fullyear of schooling. Nonetheless, one issue stands out from the studyliteracy levels increase with age for those in non-manual jobs whileit decreases with age for those in manual jobs. Additionally, theauthor compared trends in literacy among two cohorts of similar agebut one from the village and the other from urban centers. The dataalso suggests that literacy levels for different age groups in urbanareas are higher than for those born and bred in rural areas. It isthus conclusive to say that “urban life does, indeed, promoteliteracy over the life course while rural life undercuts it”(Trieman p. 148).

Thisissue of literacy has been covered by several researchers and authorsin great dept. the studies have examined different cohorts fromdifferent countries with different cultures and education systems.Not many studies that have used a similar approach to Trieman.However, several studies have covered the issue of literacy such asDesjardins (2003) who identified the determinants of literacy asschooling, home, work, community and leisure same as Trieman. Anotherstudy by Verner (2005) introduces a more complex model to understandthe determinants of literacy which include among other the percentageof population living in urban areas, per capita GDP, share ofagriculture value added in GDP, quality of education, ratio of pupilsto teachers, health status and institutional variables. The modelposits that any improvement on the above determinants is likely toaffect literacy levels positively. In the case of China, per capitaGDP has improved, quality of education, pupil to teacher ratio amongothers this would mean improved literacy levels. The approach howeverdoes not address change in literacy levels across age groups ofsimilar education levels.

Thefindings from the Trieman reporting are very interest and unique. Thefindings differ with the findings of other scholars and commonknowledge that economic advancements, urbanization, better educationsystem and better health would create a more literate society thanbefore. Other studies have also suggested that higher literacy levelsare being recorded in modern day children courtesy of informationtechnology and a generally more educated adult population (Cohen &ampCowen 2007). I find it therefore very strange that the findings fromTrieman study would suggest that Chinese university graduates canmedian literacy score of 60% same as some adults who have onlyattained three years of education. I therefore tend to disagree withthe findings that literacy levels in China among the youth are worseoff than adults simply because they do not have work experience. Itis my opinion that the sampling method used by Trieman was biasedleading to these biased findings that do not capture actual situationon the ground. Alternatively the methodology used and data analysismethods are not suited for the study. For instance identifyingChinese symbols alone cannot comprehensively capture literacy as themethodology does not factor in any possible health problems such assight that may hinder the scores. Alternatively, the effect of slangor change or evolution of a language may have led to the hugevariation by age and education level. By this I mean to say thatperhaps some of the characters used in the test were more familiar tothe older participants as opposed to the relatively youngerparticipants.


Cohen,Vicki &amp Cowen, John (2007). Literacyfor children in an information age: teaching

reading,writing, and thinking. NewYork: Cengage Learning.

Desjardins,Richard (2003). Determinants of literacy proficiency: alifelong-lifewide learning

perspective.InternationalJournal of Educational ResearchVolume 39, Issue 3, 2003, Pages 205–245

Trieman,Donald (2007). The growth and determinants of literacy in China” InEmil Hannum

andAlbert Park, (eds.), Educationand Reform in China.New York: Routledge.

Verner,Dorte. (2005). Whatfactors influence world literacy?New York: World Bank.