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10 Most Literate Countries In the World

Global literacy rates have increased over the past few decades. The importance of education cannot be overstated as a country’s performance can be confirmed by its literacy rate.

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Global literacy rates have increased over the past few decades. Literacy is a fundamental skill and a principal measure of a population’s education. The main reason for this is the evolution of the educational system of many developing countries. Education is one factor that advances and enlightens a country. John Miller, the President of Central Connecticut State University, in a statement, said, “…and what the rankings suggest, and world literacy demonstrates is that these kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economies that define our global future.” The importance of education cannot be overstated as a country’s performance can be confirmed by its literacy rate.

We cannot emphasize enough the value of education—it is a medium for adding value to minds. Gone are the days when anyone would find succor in ignorance and lack of education. Despite this, many developing countries struggle with providing necessary educational resources for their population. This reveals the disparity in the literacy rate between developing nations and the developed nations of the world. In this article, we will look at the ten most literate countries in the world. The following developed countries that we will be looking at have a sizeable learned population. They invest immensely in education via a sizable fiscal budget. They own some of the world’s best schools and are recognized as the most literate countries in the world.

When I first wrote this article about two years ago, the ranking of the ten most literate nations, in descending order, from the most literate to the tenth literate, went thus, Russia, Canada, Japan, Israel, United States, Korea, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Finland, and Australia. Two years down the line, the trends have shifted, as we will see in this article, to other nations. This spells out the word O-R-G-A-N-I-C in a scream. Why? The reason is that with the rate of educational advancement, this list of Top Ten Literate Countries will continue to shift. We can’t establish it as an absolute fact because the trends are bound to continue shifting as time and chance happen to the education spheres of the community of nations.

For this article, the root source that feeds the facts you are assimilating is from the World Population Review. The World Population Review derives the root of its hierarchy of the most literate nations from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD provides invaluable data about all the nations of the world. The OECD literacy rate standard for nations, per se, takes root in “the number adult residents between the ages of 25 and 64 that have received a tertiary education—two-years or four-year degree or have received an education via a vocational program.” We will follow the same data to establish the foundational facts of this article.

In this article, we will survey the 10 Most Literate Countries In the World from some of the website’s criteria. Let us now delve into the list.

“To succeed, you will soon learn, as I did, the importance of a solid foundation in the basics of education—literacy, both verbal and numerical, and communication skills.” — Alan Greenspan

#1. Canada

Education is one of the highest priorities of the Canadian government. Canada is one country with a mix of both career and skill-based curriculum. Various educational statistics show a high influx of students from all over the world who travel to Canada to get a first-hand experience of their amazing academic resources. Their immigration policies are also welcoming, which catalyzes to spur international students’ influx to the nation—a golden channel for aggrandizing the country’s knowledge capital. The literacy rate is approximated to be 56.71% of the population. As of 2011, the education expenditure in Canada has been about 5.3% of its GDP.

#2. Japan

Japan has a high rate of talented and educated persons—forming a viable workforce pool for many of its industries and corporations. Japan is particularly well equipped to train its youths in areas of technology. Their focus on technology has earned them a reputation of being even more advanced than most western countries. One wouldn’t talk about Japan without mentioning technology—it is a golden arrow in their body politic quiver. The educational motto of Japan is nothing short of mega-inspirational. It stipulates that they, Japan, is “Creating a society in which people of all ages, from children to adults, can learn and apply their newfound skills anytime, anywhere.” Can you beat that? The literacy rate in Japan is about 51.44%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in Japan has been about 3.5% of its GDP.

#3. Israel

Israel is in the ranks of one of the developed nations of the world. Israel is apt in finance knowledge, and most of the nation’s populace is highly educated. Israel also has a thriving Tech Start-Up scene, making it one of the world’s places for technological innovations. For instance, they are one of the global leaders of Cyber-Security. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs posits that Israel “is a hotbed of hi-tech activity, with the world’s highest investment per capita in start-up companies.” The literacy rate in Israel is about 50.92%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in Israel has been about 5.8% of its GDP.

#4. South Korea

South Korea can arguably be said to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Most of the country’s populace is educated, which is the reason for the boost in the country’s economy. The South Korean Ministry of Education hinges the educational development of their country on the philosophy of “People-centered Education of the Future.” Their goal is to create “an education system that cherishes the great value of cooperation and co-existence while focusing on the comprehensive growth of students,” as established by Yoo Eun-hae, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education for the Republic of Korea. The literacy rate of South Korea is approximately 47.74%. As of 2015, the education expenditure in South Korea has been about 5.3% of its GDP.

#5. United States of America (USA)

There was a time when the United States was at the top of the list of the world’s most literate nations. However, due to contentment, ineptitude, and lower primacies given to education, they have been toppled from the top of the list to the #5 spot now. Will it ever regain the #1 position on this list? Only time and the nation’s policies will tell. The United States of America (USA) is still one of the nations that lead with a high literacy rate. The US hasn’t slowed in education and development—with a population of 326 million, almost half of the populace is educated. Many of the US universities rank among some of the best Universities in the world, such as Stanford University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, Princeton University, etc. The literacy rate of the US is approximately 46.36%. As of 2014, the education expenditure in the US has been about 5.0% of its GDP.

“If we talk about literacy, we have to talk about how to enhance our children’s mastery over the tools needed to live intelligent, creative, and involved lives.” — Danny Glover.

#6. United Kingdom (UK) 

The UK educational style is credited as one of the best in the world. It has many top universities in the world with students from different countries. The populace’s literacy levels are at an all-time high; thus, many high-quality white-collar jobs prevail in the country. Many UK universities rank among some of the best Universities in the world, such as the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London, etc. The literacy rate of the UK is approximately 45.74%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in the UK has been about 5.5% of its GDP.

#7. Ireland

There is a lot of meaning hidden in Ireland’s Department of Education goal statement. It states that Ireland’s educational goal is “To facilitate individuals through learning, to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland’s social, cultural and economic development.” In an Op-Ed on the Irish Post by Rachael O’Connor, “Irish citizens spend an average of 12 years in full-time education.” This makes the Republic of Ireland one of the most highly educated countries in the world. The literacy rate of Ireland is approximately 45.66%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in Ireland has been about 3.7% of its GDP.

#8. Australia

As far as Australia might be regarding most countries’ geographic location, it is still one of the world’s most developed and wealthiest nations. Many tourist sites abound in Australia, attracting people from over the world to visit. The Literacy level in this country is very high and has many top universities where international students constitute about 25% of their population. The literacy rate of Australia is approximately 45.36%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in Australia has been about 5.3% of its GDP.

#9. Finland

Finland operates an effective educational system that can be measured at a secondary level. Their educational system is nothing but revolutionary. Finland is leading the way educationally through “common-sense practices and utilizing a holistic teaching ambiance that strives for equity over excellence.” The literacy rate of Finland is approximately 44.30%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in Australia has been about 6.9% of its GDP. Finland outspends most nations of the world in revolutionizing its educational system. In terms of this listicle, they come in second only to Norway in spending.

#10. Norway

Norway boasts of a tuition-free education both for its citizenry and international students. The reason is that Norway believes that “everyone should have access to education regardless of socio-economic background.” The literacy rate of Norway is approximately 43.21%. As of 2016, the education expenditure in Norway has been about 8% of its GDP. The nation of Norway outspends all nations on this listicle on their educational system.

“The biggest impact my father had on my life was teaching the importance of literacy.” — Thomas Steinbeck.

Global literacy is on the rise through the ages. It is a symbolism of power. Those who know to gain access to power. Those who have power control the affairs of those who do not. The pursuit of universal knowledgeability in Europe was spawned from the Enlightenment.1 In the 1800s, the literate world population, was at 12.05%, and the illiterate population then was at 87.95%. As of 2014, the literate world population is 85.3%, and the illiterate world population was 14.7%. With the growing global population, only 17% of the world is illiterate now. Global literacy rates have been increasing by 4% every 5 years—from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015.1 Global literacy is a human right. However, despite the fast-rising literacy levels, some are still in the stone age of scholarship.  For instance, in Niger, the literacy rate of the youth (15-24 years) is only at 36.5%—this is abysmal.1 Illiteracy is dehumanizing, and the world needs to arise and combat it fiercely.

Nations who wish to stay competitive in an age advancing in technology need to educate their populace. Failure to do so will lead to a nation that will not compete in the future global economy. From all the countries that we have seen with high literacy rates, you can attest that all these nations are global leaders for development, technology, and innovation—thanks to high literacy rates that translate to bolstered economies. These nations invest many monies in their education sectors, and we see the dividend—a multi-angled power of macrocosmic proportions. We can boldly say that governments that focus on enhancing their literacy status invest in their hope and future. Those that are not are dashing all hopes of staying alive in a growing knowledge economy. At the bottom of the totem pole, nations need to re-invent themselves and fast when it comes to literacy rate. If not, they will evaporate every chance of survival in the global knowledge economy moving at warp speed. A word is enough for the wise.


  1. Roser, M., & Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2018). Literacy. Retrieved from
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Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze is an entrepreneur and the Founder, CEO, Editor-In-Chief of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company and the parent organization of He is a multi-niche writer with a wide range of interests in various genres. Agom-Eze is based in the Greater Seattle Area, Washington, and can be reached at

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