David Vincent
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The end of literacy
The growth and measurement of British public education since the early nineteenth century
in History, historians and development policy

This chapter explores the significance of counting communication skills in one of the earliest societies to achieve mass literacy. Much of the debate around the achievement of the Millennium Development and World Education Forum Goals in education revolves around the issue of quantitative analysis. The construction of the opposition between ignorance and knowledge was fundamental to the meanings embedded in the literacy tables. If it embodied a liberal faith in the capacity of communication to promote rational behaviour it also constituted a sweeping dismissal of the entire structure of learning in the communities of the labouring poor. Patrick Colquhoun, one of the earliest advocates of public education, explained the need for intervention: 'In Great Britain and Ireland at least 1,750,000 of the population of the country, at an age to be instructed, grow up to an adult state without any instruction at all, in the grossest ignorance'.

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