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An often-forgotten component of advancing a nation’s economy is its literacy rate. As the world grows increasingly globalized as well as sophisticated in terms of the technology demanded to function at an optimal level, a literate population is critical for developing the necessary technological infrastructure needed for the state to operate within that global framework. However, not every nation has allowed female literacy to be a focus within its developmental strategy. In the Central African Republic, Iran and Myanmar, for example, female literacy rates are lower compared to male literacy rates—though there are differences that emerge when these rates are compared among one another. High levels of female literacy have been found to have a particularly dramatic impact upon a nation’s social and economic development, given the link between female literacy and lower birth rates, lower poverty rates (as a result of smaller family sizes), and improved health outcomes.[footnoteRef:2] This paper will compare the literacy rates of Cuba, the Central African Republic, Iran, and Myanmar (Burma) in general terms and in female-specific terms and show whether these general principles regarding development and female literacy are supported. [2: Robinson-Pant A. “Women, Literacy, and Development: An Overview.” Literacies and Language Education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education (3rd ed.), edited by Mary B. Street.Springer International Publishing, 1.]
Constructivism and feminism can both be theories that are applied to this research. The theoretical framework of constructivist developmental theory is useful because this perspective shows the way in which literacy as a vehicle for knowledge development is an important part in social development. It coincides with the feminist framework applied by Robinson-Pant, which uses gender as an approach for investigating the link between female literacy and economic development.[footnoteRef:3] However, the constructivist approach allows for a focus on the link between learning and socio-economic development based on the external factors within the community that supply the mechanisms for development, whether they be learning or investing. The same spirit is required, and the idea The constructivist theory asserts that sense data is pivotal to the development of knowledge and skills, and that information is acquired through the senses as well as via the cognitive application of the mind. Piaget believed that people acquire knowledge and skills through a process of assimilation and accommodation, during which they reach for a state of equilibrium as they gather and balance the pieces of information that are offered to them within their educational environment. Piaget developed the learning theory that helped to explain how people acquire knowledge: he called it cognitive constructivism. This means that through mental efforts, knowledge is constructed, and in order for that knowledge to be constructed there has to be in place a mechanism within that society to deliver the knowledge in the first place. In other words, in order for literacy to be achieve, there has to be made a conscious effort on the part of the society to want to achieve this goal. Without a proper planning and focus, it will not help—and if it does happen it is because there was a suitable framework applied in an effective manner. Thus, it should not be a surprise to see that higher literacy rates translate into a higher functioning economy in a nation. [3: Robinson-Pant A. “Women, Literacy, and Development: An Overview.” Literacies and Language Education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education (3rd ed.), edited by Mary B. Street.Springer International Publishing, 1.]
This associates well with the important factor of female literacy and how the higher the rates of literacy there are among females, the more it means that this population is becoming more knowledgeable and thus more likely to engage in the social and economic life of a community in a meaningful way. Vygotsky likewise defined a similar theory: his was a social constructivism theoretical approach. Vygotsky viewed that language and communication are essential aspects of people’s development, and that both require some element of social interaction in order for this development to be achieved. According to this theory, literacy is dependent upon social interaction and the more social interaction there is, also, the more likely a community is to develop in a positive direction. That is why both of these theories serve this research well, as each helps to explain how literacy is related to economic development, particularly with regard to female literacy, as this is a population that has been traditionally underserved in nations like Cuba, Myanmar, Iran and Central African Republic.
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The constructivist theories of Piaget and Vygotsky are useful in showing how people develop their skills and how cognition and social interaction help in turn to develop a nation.[footnoteRef:4] [4: Hearron, P. F., Hildebrand, V. Guiding Young Children (NY: Merrill, 2010), 30.]
In nations like Iran, Central African Republic and Myanmar, literacy rates among females are lower than they are among men.[footnoteRef:5] Cuba is the one exception with literacy reports reportedly equal between men and women. Nonetheless, UNICEF reports that literacy rates among youth and adults are improving as a result of globalization and the spread of universal ideals regarding education and equality: “Globally, the youth literacy rate increased from 83 per cent to 91 per cent over two decades, while the number of illiterate youth declined from 170 million to 115 million.”[footnoteRef:6] However, UNICEF also shows that “regional and gender disparities persist” with respect, for instance, to the fact that “literacy is lowest in least developed countries and higher among males than females.”[footnoteRef:7] Overall, female literacy rates are still low in developing countries and throughout the world, UNICEF has found that “young women accounted for 59 per cent of the total illiterate youth population.”[footnoteRef:8] It is therefore helpful to bear these figures in mind before advancing to compare the female literacy rates of Cuba, Myanmar, Iran and Central African Republic, all of which may be considered to be developing countries—though each is developing in its own way at a faster or slower pace. It is also worth considering that each has its own unique culture, norms and expectations, which play a factor in how well education is advanced and the degree to which female literacy is likely to be achieved. [5: “The World Factbook.” CIA, 2018. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2103.html] [6: UNICEF, “Literacy among youth is rising,” 2018. https://data.unicef.org/topic/education/literacy/] [7: UNICEF, “Literacy among youth is rising,” 2018. https://data.unicef.org/topic/education/literacy/] [8: UNICEF, “Literacy among youth is rising,” 2018. https://data.unicef.org/topic/education/literacy/]
Starting first with Iran, it is worth pointing out that this country is particularly well advanced for a developing country. Iran plays a central role in the stability of the Middle East, working recently alongside Russia and Syria to combat the terrorist threat of ISIS in the region. It has signed a nuclear deal with the West (which may or may not be abandoned in the coming weeks, depending on how the U.S. decides to approach the issue under the Trump Administration). It holds democratic elections and has a stable economy that has held up considerably well in spite of many sanctions aimed at it from the U.S. in recent years. It has positive relationships with Russia, China, and many countries in Europe and is seen as key player in the expansion of China’s Silk Road initiative. Iran is thus to be thought of as well-developed for a developing country.
With this in mind, it should not be surprising to find out that that Iran’s female literacy rate is relatively high among the four countries here being compared. While not the highest (among figures that have been reported by UNESCO), it is certainly a figure that is believable, as Iran does have a culture that places high emphasis on education and even on female education. While there is an 8.7% difference between the female literacy rate among men and women in Iran—the rate for men is 91.2% literate and the rate for women is 82.5% literate—this is still an average rate of 86.85%. Female literacy, while lower than male literacy in Iran by just under 10% does show there more than 8 out of 10 women in Iran are literate, which should bode well for the state’s economic and social infrastructure. Iran, however, is also unique among the four chosen countries in that is described as “a bundle of contradictions. Women can’t testify fully in court, and yet women can be judges presiding over the court.”[footnoteRef:9] In other words, educated women are permitted to do some things and contribute to society in….....
Salazar-Carrillo, Jorge. Cuba: From Economic Take-off to Collapse under Castro. NY: Routledge, 2017.
Hearron, P. F. and Hildebrand, V. Guiding Young Children. NY: Merrill, 2010.
King, Elizabeth M. & Hill, M.Ann.Women\'s Education in Developing Countries: Barriers, Benefits and Policies. World Bank Publications, 1997.
Kristof, Nicholas &WuDunn, Sheryl. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York, Ny: Vintage, 2010.
Radlet, Steven. The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Robinson-Pant, A. “Women, Literacy, and Development: An Overview.” Literacies and Language Education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education (3rd ed.), edited by Mary B. Street.Springer International Publishing, 1-15
UNICEF. “Literacy among youth is rising,” 2018. https://data.unicef.org/topic/education/literacy/
“The World Factbook.” CIA, 2018. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2103.html