Queen Rania Foundation

The high cost of too many children who struggle to read and write

World Bank data tells us that over 50% of ten years olds in Jordan cannot read, or understand, a simple piece of age appropriate text. Based on international evidence, it is almost certain that the vast majority of these ten year olds will not turn this situation around - and so will go on to incur the lifetime costs of illiteracy.

To make this real, imagine for a moment that you, the reader, are not able to read and write fluently. Would you still have the same job, or income? What effects would this have on your mental well-being? How would you effectively manage your physical health if you struggle to read the instructions on a medicine box, let alone health blogs or guidance.

Of course, what affects individuals gets aggregated at the country level. As a result of this illiteracy, Jordan is simply not as prosperous as it could be. Because being able to read and write affects learning in almost every other area, our people also lack enough of the skills that are needed to take advantage of the new opportunities being created by advances in technology or science.  

In December a new, more fine grained, data set was released, the OECD’s PISA. This is an international test of what fifteen year olds around the world know, and can do. Out of almost 79 countries and economies, fifteen year olds in Jordan score 400 points in mathematics compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries. 429 points in science, compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries and 419 points in literacy compared to an average of 487 points in OECD countries. Despite improvement, results in literacy are still worrying. Jordan is still behind the OECD average by 1.5 grade levels in reading. Only 2 in 10 students in Jordan perform at or around the OECD average level in reading. 

In a world that is increasingly connected and global, where just-in-time supply chains cross boundaries and where every country needs to think about how they contribute to the value chain, this international comparison matters.  Simply put, the harsh reality of today’s world is that a Jordanian student is not just competing with her peers for a job - but with her counterparts in UAE or Turkey.

It’s usually said that education is an investment, not a cost. That’s only true, though, if ‘education’ reliably equips students with the skills they need to thrive in life and work. Amongst these, being able to read and write must be foremost. Investing in that would definitely make economic sense for Jordan.