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The end of literacy: the growth and measurement of British public education since the early nineteenth century

Vincent, David (2011). The end of literacy: the growth and measurement of British public education since the early nineteenth century. In: Bayly, C. A.; Rao, Vijayendra ; Szreter , Simon and Woolcock , Michael eds. History, Historians and Development Policy: A Necessary Dialogue. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 177–192.


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The paper explores the significance of counting communication skills in one of the earliest societies to achieve mass literacy. The Millennium Development Goals in education reflect structures of practice and thinking rooted in the nineteenth century. The notion of a goal itself, the measurable output of official endeavour, belongs to the founding of the modern state. Literacy as an early performance indicator of public expenditure embodied a construction of an opposition between ignorance and knowledge, a disaggregation of social structures and a dismissal of informal education. It sustained the rise of the performance orientation of schooling which subordinated the role of users. Despite their cultural limitations, the literacy and postal statistics permitted long-run quantitative analysis. There remains a question, to which historians do not have a privileged answer, as to whether education in its fullest sense is a goal that can ever be consistently measured over time and across space. The contemporary shifts in the meaning of literacy threaten to disconnect the term from history and disable our capacity fully to understand the dynamics of change.

Item Type: Book Section
Copyright Holders: 2011 Manchester University Press
ISBN: 0-7190-8576-4, 978-0-7190-8576-5
Extra Information: This is the published version of,‘The End of Literacy: The Growth and Measurement of British Public Education Since the Early 19th Century’, Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper 67/2009. ISBN 978-1-906518-66-0
Keywords: history; literacy; state; primary education; development studies
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > History, Religious Studies, Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Item ID: 30591
Depositing User: David Vincent
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2011 11:35
Last Modified: 04 Oct 2016 15:09
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