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The People of Asia


Millions of people throughout Asia are illiterate, which is defined as the inability of people over age 15 to write a short, simple statement about their everyday life. Although fewer than 15 percent of the people in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea are illiterate, the illiteracy rate in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Yemen is greater than 50 percent. In many areas more women than men are illiterate and sometimes the gap is very wide.

The education systems of most countries have emphasized elementary or primary school instruction. In Southeast and Southwest Asia, elementary instruction is often conducted by religious groups, such as Buddhists and Muslims. Japan, Russia, and Israel have led the development of adequate educational systems. In Japan, nine years of schooling are free and compulsory, and the country has many universities. China’s educational system concentrates on the elimination of illiteracy. India has benefited from schools and colleges that were established during the period of British rule; like China, it has stressed mass literacy.

School participation rates vary throughout Asia. In the majority of countries almost all students undertake primary school education, reflecting the priority this has generally been given by governments. There is universal primary education in China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Myanmar. In a handful of South and Southwest Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Yemen, only 50 to 75 percent of the school-aged children are enrolled. Far fewer girls than boys attend primary school in these countries. Secondary education has lower levels of enrollment throughout Asia, and even fewer students attend institutions of higher education.

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