Economist: Egypt at 90% Literacy in a Generation?

The Economist has out its new country profile of Egypt, assembled by the knowledgeable Max Rodenbeck, and of course I skipped immediately to the short section on literacy and education.

There is little cheering about it—no one familiar with our dual education systems would expect much cheer—but I did like to hear this:

Whereas in the early 1990s nearly half of all children either did not even start basic education or failed to complete it, that proportion has now fallen below 15%, which suggests that Egypt could be reaching 90% literacy within a generation.

The ability to decode letters in and of itself doesn’t say much to me, and I’m not sure there’s a way of testing “truer” literacy (the ability to read texts critically and imaginatively), but it’s not nothing!

And then the conclusion put a happy spin on it. I am willing to be optimistic, why not?

Historic comparison offers some cause for optimism. Egyptians’ educational level now equals not only South Korea’s in 1960 but also Turkey’s in 1980 and much of western Europe’s at the end of the 19th century. In all those places the threshold of 75% literacy proved a starting point not just for faster economic growth and human development but for political transition too.


  1. Bibi and I have spent the last week or so talking about literacy in the Arab world. 🙂

    Egypt’s literacy rate at the moment in the 15-and-over population is 56%.

    I don’t think that we’ll see 80-90% figures in a generation unless there are dramatic overhauls to the education system.

  2. I have no idea, honestly, how one generates figures like this—although yes, with the current state of the Egyptian education system, it seems unrealistic. And I guess I don’t find any reason to think it’s getting “better,” as The Economist finds…there are certainly high-quality private schools, but I imagine that detracts from the quality of public education as much as anything.

    Still, I like optimism. And 90 percent literacy sounds so nice!

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