Abstract – Literacy is a complex notion that cannot be reduced to a dichotomy (literate / non-literate). In this paper we discuss the notion of literacy and we distinguish it from the Italian term alfabetizzazione, which is more based on schooling and reveals to be only partially reliable. We consider various national and international surveys which have been developed to measure the levels of literacy in world population so that results can be now compared and correlated with other development factors. The analysis of international surveys is the necessary milestone for increasing and improving educational policies in the world. In international surveys of this century, Italy has ranked among the states with the lowest literacy rates. It is, therefore, necessary to start from this framework and from the worrying persistence of adult functional illiterates in Italy to renew the commitment of the institutions in order to promote and increase literacy in our country.
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