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Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Finland is the most literate country in the world.

This is revealed in a study published on Tuesday: The World’s Most Literate Nations (WMLN). It’s the first study to analyze large-scale trends in literate behavior and literacy in more than 60 countries.

The research finds that the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway) are among the six most literate nations in the world, while Canada and the U.S. rank 10th and 11th respectively.

The study, conducted by John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT., is used as a lens to view literate behaviors and their supporting resources -five categories such as size and number of libraries and newspaper readership.

According to Miller, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway earn five of the top six slots in the study, largely because “their monolithic culture values reading.”

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“The power of literacy and the value of being part of a literate world is often taken for granted,” says Miller in a bulletin.

Miller and his team examined data for 200 countries, but due to lack of relevant statistics, only 61 made the cut.

“The factors we examined present a complex and nuanced portrait of a nation’s cultural vitality, and what the rankings strongly suggest and world literacy demonstrates,” Miller says and continues, “is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economics that define our global future.”


Country Rank Country Rank Country Rank
Finland 1 Austria 21 Greece 41
Iceland 2 Lithuania 22 Mexico 42
Denmark 3 Slovenia 23 Croatia 43
Sweden 4 Italy 24 Chile 44
New Zealand 5 Hungary 25 China 45
Norway 6 Japan 26 Brazil 46.5
Switzerland 7 Cyprus 27.5 Serbia 46.5
Latvia 8 Malaysia 27.5 So. Korea 48
Germany 9 Luxembourg 29 Singapore 49
Canada 10 Romania 30 Costa Rica 50
United States 11 Poland 31 Argentina 51
Estonia 12 Spain 32 Morocco 52
Belgium 13 South Africa 33 Turkey 53
United Kingdom 14 Panama 34 Georgia 54
Australia 15 Russia 35 Qatar 55
Ireland 16 Portugal 36 Thailand 56
France 17 Bulgaria 37 Botswana 57
Slovak Republic 18 Malta 38 Tunisia 58
Israel 19 Mauritius 39 Colombia 59
Czech Republic 20 Netherlands 40 Albania 60
Indonesia 61
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Miller’s study synthesizes two types of variables: literacy achievement tests (PIRLS – Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment) and literate behavior characteristics (population, newspapers, libraries, years of schooling). Details on the methodology can be found here.

One consistent finding, according to Miller, is 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 stresses that the rankings would be “very different” if educational outputs (PIRLS and PISA) were the only indices used. “The Pacific Rim countries, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and China, would top the list if test performance was the only measure. Finland would be the only non-Pacific Rim country to rank high,” he says, and adds, “When factors such as library size and accessibility are added in, the Pacific Rim nations drop dramatically.”

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The Western Hemisphere countries do not fare well overall in the study. Canada ranks 10th, the US 11th Mexico 42nd, Brazil ties for 46th, and Costa Rica comes in at 50th.

For the US, Miller says, while the years of compulsory education have increased, the practice of literate behaviors has decreased, and the ability to read stays relatively the same. “It is not so much that we are slowing down in this world race, but rather that others are speeding up,” he says.



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