illiteracy in Taiwan

Below is the gist of a story on illiteracy in Taiwan. The illiteracy rate is given as 2.84 percent; I believe this masks greater problems with literacy. Note how literacy is never defined. The closest anyone gets is an official with the Ministry of Education who says that “functional illiteracy” is relative.

Farmers in the countryside who can’t use a computer or read “English” (i.e. Roman) letters wouldn’t have that judged against them, but someone in a metropolitan area who couldn’t use an automated ticket-purchase system or make a withdrawl from a bank [via an ATM?] could be considered illiterate:

Gōngnéngxìng wénmáng de dìngyì yīn gèrén shēnghuó huánjìng ér yì, xiāngxia nóngfū bù huì diànnǎo, bù huì Yīngwén zìmǔ kěnéng bù suàn gōngnéngxìng wénmáng, dànshì dūshì rén bù huì yòng diànnǎo mǎi piào, cún tíkuǎn kěnéng jiù suànshì wénmáng.

I’ve tried before to get an answer from the ministry on just how literacy is defined; no one I spoke with knew. Now that the subject has come up again, I’ll give it another try.

Anyway, here’s the story, in my own summary:

As of the end of 2004, Taiwan’s illiteracy rate for people 15 years and older was 2.84 percent, according to an official with the Ministry of Education. The overwhelming majority of those who are illiterate are elderly, the official added.

The official said a new group of the illiterate is emerging: foreign spouses of local citizens. They are not included in the literacy statistics, however, unless and until they obtain Taiwan citizenship.

The ministry will put more emphasis on organizing adult education programs for illiterate foreign spouses through cooperation with city and county governments and non-profit foundations, according to the official.

The ministry also gave some historical figures:

year illiteracy rate
1989 7.11%
1991 6.42%
2004 2.84%


4 thoughts on “illiteracy in Taiwan

  1. Two points:
    1) The word “keneng” in the article you quoted makes the definition of functional illiteracy even murkier. It sounds like the MOE (or at least the person who wrote the article) isn’t even sure what functional illiteracy might mean in the case of a farmer. Very odd…

    2) Your link to what I think is supposed to be a Chinese-language article on the subject actually just takes me back to your post.

  2. Jonathan:
    I think that’s right: Nobody is sure exactly what the standards are, which makes me wonder just how they come up with precise-sounding figures like 2.84 percent.
    And thanks for letting me know about the link. I’ve fixed it.

  3. There are various aspects to literacy and as you point out they don’t seem to have been well considered. Although many foreign spouses may not be literate in Chinese, they would almost certainly be literate in their native languages. Is any consideration given to this in policy formulation? Or is the government not interested in translating information into Thai or Vietnamese?

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