Literacy is a key for socio-economic progress. It is defined as the ability to identify, understand, interpret, what one reads and to write what one understands. It is to communicate graphically. Acquiring literacy n materials associated with varying contexts. Originally derived from the Latin word “Letter” literacy is the ability to read and write in at least one language. It is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.
The notion of basic literacy is used for the initial learning of reading and writing which adults who have never been to school need to go through. In the context the term functional literacy is kept for the level of reading and writing which adults are thought to need in modern complex society. In a clearer term it may be said that to acquire literacy is more than to psychologically and mechanically dominate reading and writing techniques. It is to dominate those techniques in terms of consciousness; does not involve memorizing sentences, words or syllables-lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe- but rather an attitude of creation and recreation, a self-transformation, producing a stance of intervention in one’s context. It is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials.
Universal meaning of literacy
Several international agencies including the International Council for Adult Education, notes literacy as learning to read and write, reading and writing to learn and developing these skills and using them effectively for meeting basic needs. Universal access to quality education in developed countries has helped to shape this concept of literacy.
According to it true literacy encompasses much more than just basic skills. It includes the ability to analyse things, understand general ideas or terms, use symbols in complex ways, apply theories and perform other necessary life skills, including the ability to engage in the social and economic life of the community. This broader concept of literacy is also called functional literacy and opposite to it is the basic literacy concept which focuses on acquiring skills, functional literacy deals with how people actually use such skill to live and work in society.
Recent research in fields such as sociology, the cognitive sciences, linguistics, anthropology and education have contributed to an even broader, more inclusive view of literacy, called plural literacy. According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation, ‘A plural view of literacy recognises that there are many literacy practices that are embedded in social, political and cultural processes, personal circumstances and socio-economic structures. This view of literacy sees it as an evolving set of skills, with less of an emphasis on a fixed set of generic skills, as in basic literacy, or measurable technical and life skills, as in functional literacy.
In addition, there are studies of multiple literacy that focus on encouraging students to take meaning from, and to understand how, literacy can help them in different social contexts.
However, both these views-plural and multiple are important because they highlight the many different ways we use language in our homes, workplaces, schools, communities and social groups. What we use literacy to do varies in different settings. But the way of defining literacy affects how problems are identified and what is done to solve the problem.
For instance, government literacy policies intended to create employment and develop work-related skills reflect a functional view of literacy. A plural or multiple literacy approach seeks to achieve more communal results. The exclusive use of functional literacy policies would have little impact on multiple or plural literacy objectives-such as better health outcomes, expanded adult learning and more civic engagement. Therefore, the creation of literacy policies needs to address functional and plural/multiple literacies.
Skillful meaning of literacy
In the circumstances we need a radical redefinition of literacy, one that includes a recognition of the vital importance that morality plays in shaping literacy. We need a radical redefinition of what it means for society to have all the appearances of literary and yet to abandon the book as its dominant metaphor. We must understand what happens when the computer replaces the book as the prime metaphor for visualising the self… It is to remember that those who celebrate the intensities and discontinuities of postmodern electronic culture in print write from an advanced literacy. That literacy provides them the profound power of choosing their ideational repertoire.
No such choice or power is available to the illiterate young person subjected to an endless stream of electronic images. In general on the basis of definitions, literacy has got four levels; (i) Below Basic Literacy- It indicates no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills; (ii) Basic Literacy- It indicates skills necessary to perform simple and everyday literacy activities; (iii) Intermediate Literacy- It indicates skills necessary to perform moderately challenging literacy activities and (iv) Proficient Literacy- It indicates skills necessary to perform more complex and challenging literacy activities.
Importance in globalisation
In today’s world literacy is about more than just words and meaning. It is important because the world is rapidly changing. The effects of globalisation and free trade, better communication and information technologies and the rise of societies that use knowledge and information to create wealth, have resulted in a growing demand for highly skilled workers.
This global competition for skilled, literate workers explains why literacy has become so important. It is important because it affects people’s lives directly, impacting their chances of employment, level of income, and type of occupation.
Research shows that higher literacy skills can lead to better jobs, increased incomes and greater productivity. Literacy skills also affect social status, level of political participation, opportunities for cultural expression, health, survival of language, access to social services and opportunity to learn. Having good literacy skills enhances a country’s quality of life by reducing poverty, lowering unemployment, lessening the need for public assistance and encouraging better parenting.
Thus, the word “literacy”, while at first glance seem to be a term that everyone understand, at the same, the concept has proved to be both complex and dynamic, continuing to be interpreted and defined in a multiplicity of ways. People’s notions of what it means to be literate or illiterate are influenced by academic research, institutional agendas, national context, cultural values and personal experiences.
In the academic community, theories of literacy have evolved from those focused solely on changes in individuals to more complex views encompassing the broader social contexts that encourage and enable literacy activities and practices to occur.
As a result of these and other developments, understanding in the international policy community have expanded too: from viewing literacy as a simple process of acquiring basic cognitive skills, to using these skills in ways that contribute to socio-economic development, to developing the capacity for social awareness and critical reflections as a basis for personal and social change.