What is literacy?
Literacy has been given many different definitions. Most current definitions go beyond the traditional, limited idea of literacy as solely the ability to read and write. The Centre for Literacy of Quebec developed the following definition:
Literacy is a complex set of abilities needed to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture – alphabets, numbers, visual icons - for personal and community development. The nature of these abilities, and the demand for them, vary from one context to another.
In a technological society, literacy extends beyond the functional skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening to include multiple literacies such as visual, media, and information literacy. These new literacies focus on an individual’s capacity to use and make critical judgements about the information they encounter on a daily basis.
However a culture defines it, literacy touches every aspect of individual and community life. It is an essential foundation for learning through life, and must be valued as a human right.
This definition is broad in scope. It expresses literacy as a set of skills necessary for both individual and social development. The definition also reflects the complexity of literacy skills necessary to function within contemporary society. Most significant is the recognition that different cultures may define literacy in different ways and that being literate changes with the unique demands of a particular environment.