Literacy is the ability to read and write. The inability to do so is called illiteracy or analphabetism. Visual literacy includes in addition the ability to understand visual forms of communication such as body language, pictures, maps, and video. Evolving definitions of literacy often include all the symbol systems relevant to a particular community. Literacy encompasses a complex set of abilities to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture for personal and community development. In a technological society, the concept of literacy is expanding to include the media and electronic text, in addition to alphabetic and number systems. These abilities vary in different social and cultural contexts according to need, demand and education.
Many policy analysts consider literacy rates as a crucial measure of the value of a region’s human capital. For example, literate people can be more easily trained than illiterate people – and generally have a higher socioeconomic status; thus they enjoy better health and employment prospects. Literacy increases job opportunities and access to higher education.
Moreover, literacy is a key indicator of educational progress and the schools are successful in equipping their students with strong literacy skills. This indicator consists of two components. The first component relates to how well students perform on average, with higher average scores indicating, at a national or provincial level, stronger academic achievement overall. The second component concerns the range in scores between the top-performing students and those at the bottom of the distribution.
Achieving both high average literacy scores and low inequality scores are desirable, and as we have seen, compatible goals. Part of the policy equation is understanding and assessing which policies and practices work best so that all students can benefit, regardless of where they live or how well off their parents are.
Importance of Literacy
There is a significant relationship between Literacy and Development. Literacy benefits both individuals & communities. It transforms people, communities & the entire social structure and is a key for socio-economic development. In its earliest uses, the term ‘literacy’ referred solely to the ability to read and write; one either could or could not. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) define literacy as the “Ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” Literate societies interact & contribute in development. Literacy is fundamental for learning in school. It has an impact on an individual’s ability to participate in society and to understand important public issues. And it provides the foundation upon which skills needed in the labour market are built.
Technology, and the science behind it, permeates all aspects of our lives, from how we work and communicate to what we shop for and how we pay our bills. The complexity of today’s world means that individuals need to have some level of proficiency in reading, mathematics and science in order to understand and participate fully in economic and social life.
A population’s literacy skills also have a bearing on how well a country performs economically. The world we live in today is vastly different from that of a generation ago. Technological change has transformed the way in which work is done; competition in many industries is global in nature. These changes have, in turn, brought rising skill requirements. Countries that are successful in endowing their populations with strong skills are usually in a better position to meet the economic challenges of operating in a globalized information economy.
Finally, having a population that has strong literacy skills also places a country in a better position to meet the complex social challenges that it faces. For example, strong literacy skills are linked to better health outcomes for individuals. A highly literate population will be better able to deal with issues of governance in a highly diverse society. And informed debate is needed to help us determine how best we can allocate scarce resources across competing priorities, such as education, health, investment in infrastructure, and social programs.