Literacy Definition and Importance Essay

February 3, 2021 by Essay Writer

Education is an important aspect in the economy of a country. It is a measure of a country’s potential human capital. Compared to their counterparts-illiterate people, literate people in a community not only have higher social status but also enjoy better employment and wealth prospects. The higher the literacy level, the better placed is a country in terms of its ability to spear head its set development goals/objectives. This paper seeks to give a backbone of the term ‘literacy’ and its justification.

Literacy is the process of learning whereby an individual gains the ability to understand and convey written information, gain new skills from the information, teach those skills and apply the acquired knowledge and skills for the benefit of the society. Here the key words are gain, ability to understand, teach, apply, and for a benefit. However, different people have defined literacy differently in different periods. Traditionally, people defined literacy as the ability to read, appropriately use written information and appropriately write in a range of contexts (Winch, 2007, p. 20). However, there have been new aspects arising from the definition.

This definition does not involve critical thinking in the application of the information retrieved from the written sources. It remains insufficient since it does not account for several aspects that are significant as far as literacy is concerned.

Most people perceive that literacy comprises of a set of several tangible skills, which include the cognitive skills of reading and writing. These skills ought to be independent of the context of acquiring them and the background of the individual who acquires them (Adams, 1993, p. 24). The individual should be able to decode phonetics, spelling, word recognition and vocabulary. This implies that one should not depend on pictures to denote meaning. There is emphasis on both the ability to understand orally given information and the ability to present it as written literature.

In the recent past, various scholars have started using the term ‘literacy’ in a much broader metaphorical sense to refer to other skills and competencies, for example ‘information literacy’, ‘visual literacy’, ‘media literacy’, ‘computer literacy’ and ‘scientific literacy’ (Hills, 2006, p. 6). The introduction of these concepts has brought a shift from the view of literacy as a set of words but also the interpretation of signs, symbols, pictures and sounds, which vary by social context (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 5). These skills enable an individual to gather and apply knowledge in different contexts.

An addition to the contemporary definitions of literacy is that it should be a learning process in which, individuals continually acquire knowledge and skills and use those skills for the benefit of the society (Rogoff, 2003, p. 6). According to National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, learning to read and the teaching of reading is usually included within the broader area of literacy (2005, p. 7). Therefore, the literacy learning system should focus on strategies that are investigative, reflective, tailored, tested, embedded, purposively practiced and shared.

In conclusion, literacy includes gaining knowledge, being able to understand, to teach, to apply, and to use for a specific benefit. These aspects are equally important and therefore absence of either may translate to illiteracy. For this reason, when assessing literacy level, it is important to consider all the aspects. It applies in all fields.


Adams, R. P. (1993). Juniperus: Flora of North America North of Mexico, Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Web.

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge. Web.

Hill, S. (2006). Developing early literacy: assessment and teaching. Vic: Eleanor. Web.

Curtain Pub. National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. (2005). Report and Recommendations. Australia: Common Wealth of Australia. Web.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress. Web.

Winch, G. (2007).Literacy: reading, writing and children’s literature 3rd Ed. Victoria: Oxford university press. Web.

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