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Papua New Guinea

Why we should invest in getting more kids to read — and how to do it

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Data shows that huge swaths of populations in developing countries are not learning to read. Scaling up early reading interventions will be a first step toward addressing these high illiteracy rates.
Data shows that huge swaths of populations in developing countries are not learning to read. Scaling up early reading interventions will be a first step toward addressing these high illiteracy rates. (Photo: Liang Qiang / World Bank)


It is estimated that more than 250 million school children throughout the world cannot read. This is unfortunate because literacy has enormous benefits – both for the individual and society. Higher literacy rates are associated with healthier populations, less crime, greater economic growth, and higher employment rates. For a person, literacy is a foundational skill required to acquire advanced skills. These, in turn, confer higher wages and more employment across labor markets .

Education and economic development: Five reforms that have worked

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Also available in: Français
Education systems are simply not performing as needed; not as economies demand, and not as parents desire. Yet it’s important to celebrate and recognize the success of countries that have made significant advances. (Photo: Sofie Tesson / Taimani Films / World Bank)

Every sector is reforming to meet the changing demands of the global economy. Except one. Education remains a predominantly public service.  This is fine except that it means that this is also mainly publicly-provided, publicly-financed, and regulated. No public service agency is expected to do as much as we expect of education. How are education systems around the world faring?

Éducation et développement économique : retour sur cinq réformes efficaces

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Also available in: English
Les systèmes éducatifs ne sont tout bonnement pas à la hauteur des besoins économiques ni des attentes des parents. D’où l’importance de célébrer et prendre acte des succès importants obtenus dans certains pays[MPS1] . (Photo : Sofie Tesson / Taimani Films / Banque mondiale)

Here’s the evidence that low cost reading programs can have a big impact

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Photo: © Dana Smillie / World Bank


The importance of literacy for economic growth and development is already well established in economic research.  Literacy enables people to access information and improve their productivity.  I believe that literacy is crucial to the diffusion of new technologies, especially among the poor. It produces high economic returns, so much so that early literacy is viewed as a threshold for economic development.

READ this: Why we must measure literacy at an early age

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Also available in: Español
Measuring young children's skills in Malawi.


A couple of years ago Room to Read, a non-profit organization for improving literacy and gender equality in education in the developing world, implored viewers to try to not to read anything at all in a popular ad.