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Top five spots taken by five Nordic states.Amazon

The United Kingdom has managed to clinch the 17th spot in the world's most literate nations out of a total of 61 ranked by the Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. Finland came up tops followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden.

The US took seventh spot. Even Latvia, ranked at ninth and Estonia at 14th, managed to beat the UK in the rankings. The study, which was conducted by John W.Miller, the president of the university, is used "as a lens to view literate behaviours and their supporting resources."

Five categories such as the size and number of libraries and newspaper readership and computer availability are taken into account. "The power of literacy and the value of being part of a literate world is often taken for granted," Miller said.

He explained: "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 is that these kinds of literate behaviours are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economics that define our global future."

Miller noted 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 said the top five countries earned their rankings largely because of "their monolithic culture values reading."

Changing the defining variables would lead to different results, according to the study. For instance, Brazil would be in the top spot by educational investment, while Estonia is the leader based on the number of books in libraries while Netherlands leads by households with computers. Finland is the leader in terms of newspaper readership.

He noted that the rankings would be very different if educational outputs 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 added.

However, he said: "When factors such as library size and accessibility are added in, the Pacific Rim nations drop dramatically. He noted in the US, the ability to read remained relatively the same, despite the increase in the years of compulsory education. This is because the practice of literate behaviours have fallen, he said. "It is not so much that we are slowing down in this world race, but rather that others are speeding up."

The report noted: "Many individuals, and even whole societies, make considerable sacrifices to become literate, just as others take it for granted. Societies that do not practice literate behaviour are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal and harsh."

Botswana took the last spot at 61 followed by Indonesia, Thailand and Morocco. A total of 200 countries were considered but only 61 countries made the list as the rest lacked relevant statistics.

The top 20 countries are as follows:

  1. Finland
  2. Norway
  3. Iceland
  4. Denmark
  5. Sweden
  6. Switzerland
  7. United States
  8. Germany
  9. Latvia
  10. Netherlands
  11. Canada
  12. France
  13. Luxembourg
  14. Estonia
  15. New Zealand
  16. Australia
  17. United Kingdom
  18. Belgium
  19. Israel
  20. Poland