Finland has been named the world’s most literate nation - 16 places ahead of the UK - according to new research.
The study of the world's most literate nations, conducted by John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in the US, ranks nations not on their populace’s ability to read, but instead on the population's “literate behaviours and supporting resources”. This includes the number of libraries in the country, newspapers in circulation, years of schooling, reading assessment scores and computer availability.
According to the Guardian, the study intended to look at data from 200 countries, but “due to lack of relevant statistics” was only able to include 61 countries.
The top five most literate nations was made up entirely of Nordic countries, with Finland in first place, Norway in second and Iceland in third. Denmark came fourth and Sweden was in fifth place. The US was seventh in the ranking, while the UK was in 17th place. China came in 39th place.
Miller said: "The rankings strongly suggest [...] that these kinds of literate behaviours are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economics that define our global future”.
The report added: “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 behaviour are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal and harsh.”
When considering libraries, Estonia was ranked highest, with Latvia, Iceland, Poland and Norway rounding out the top five. The UK was in joint 29.5th place with the US, while China was last on the list in 61st place.
The report found that when ranking nations based only on their reading assessment results, the final tables saw Singapore in first place, with South Korea, Japan and China in second, fourth and fifth places respectively. Finland is the only non-Pacific Rim country to make the top five, in joint second place. The UK comes in 26th place based on reading assessment results.
Miller said that a consistent finding from the report was that “there is no meaningful correlation between years of compulsory schooling and educational expenditures on the one hand and test scores on the other”. He also said that he believes the Nordic countries took the five top slots in the study because “their monolithic culture values reading”.
Diana Gerald, chief executive of UK reading charity Book Trust, told The Guardian that the message to draw from the research was that “we have to get children reading more, and enjoying it more”.
“We’re not going to change this ranking unless we have a nation that is reading," she said. "And it’s a virtuous circle – if you read more for enjoyment, you enjoy reading more, and so you read more. And that will show up in these figures.”
Gerald said the 17th place was not “absolutely dreadful, but why wouldn’t we want to be top?”
She added: “We come from the nation of Dickens and Shakespeare, we have an extraordinary literary background. I believe we are doing lots of good work on core literacy and phonics, which are vital, but we need to add … getting children from a young age into loving reading, and wanting to read ... We’ve got to get the fun and enjoyment back into reading.”