Depending on context, literacy can be defined in different ways. First, it is the ability to know, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute using information written in any form and under varying contexts. It can also be defined as the ability to write coherently, think critically, and read not only for knowledge, but also to acquaint oneself with the environmental context (Gordon & Gordon, 2003).
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Literacy can also be defined as the ability to make and communicate meaning by use of a variety of socially identifiable contextual symbols. In various levels of developmental ability, a literate person can gain and convey meaning and use their knowledge and judgment to achieve a desired objective or goal that requires the use of language skills either in writing or in writing.
A literate person can arbitrate their world by obtaining meaning from one knowledge base and apply or connect it to another knowledge base intentionally and flexibly (Brace, Brockhoff, Sparkes, and Tuckey, 2006a). For instance, knowing that letters represent sounds and that those sounds form words to which the audience can attach meaning entails literacy under this context. The definition of literacy is dynamic, evolving, and reflects the continual changes in our society (Kress, 2003).
Literacy can be achieved by establishing a reading culture which involves the development of skills and this process begins with ability to comprehend both spoken and written words. To be fluent in reading and comprehension, one has to be familiar with speech sounds, spelling patterns, word meaning, grammar and patterns of word formation (Elaine and Edward, 2003).
Once these skills are acquired, the reader will have attained full language literacy which includes the capability to interpret printed material from an informed perspective and undertake a detailed analysis and to write with accuracy and soundness. Literacy involves continuity in learning and enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.
Literacy can also be defined as set of practical tools to facilitate work on the job, at home, and around the community (Gunther, 2003). There are different types of literacy and they give us a wide definition of literacy. To start with is prose literature which measures how well one understands and uses information found in various written materials. Second is document literacy which assesses how well one finds and uses information in a number of pictorial representations.
The third is quantitative literacy which assesses how well one can use numbers found in printed and othenr visual media. Quantitative literacy is a little different from prose and document literacy because apart from using text to find a meaning, one must add, subtract, multiply, divide or perform any other mathematical computation to obtain the required information.
The final type of literacy is health literacy that evaluates how well one can comprehend and use health-related information to make health-related decisions. These include actions that involve health promotion and protection disease prevention, and all other aspects that relate to the healthcare system.
The ability to read and write is fundamental to a successful education, career, independent living, and quality of life in today’s world (Street, 1984). With the evolving world, one has to be literate for almost every aspect of today’s environment requires some form of literacy.
Brace, J., Brockhoff, V., Sparkes, N., and Tuckey, J. (2006a). First Steps: Speaking and listening map of development (2nd ed.). Port Melbourne, Vic: Rigby
Gordon, E. H., and Gordon, E. E. (2003). Literacy in America: historic journey and contemporary solutions. New York: Praeger
Kress, G. R. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. New York: Routledge
Street, B. V. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge University Press Cambridge.