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Information plays a crucial role in the running of modern society. The ability to receive and transmit information is of great importance. While oral communication plays a role in this task, reading and writing are even more significant in information processing. For this reason, literacy has emerged as an important concept in the modern world.
By definition, literacy is “the ability and the willingness to use reading and writing to construct meaning from the printed text” (Wray 7). Several social, economic, and political benefits are attributed to the attainment of literacy. For this reason, policy makers and governments stress the importance of promoting literacy among their citizens. This paper will set out to discuss why literacy matters and its importance in today’s society.
Why Literacy Matters in Today’s Society
Literacy is important since it influences a person’s ability to gain employment and earn a decent wage. Employers consider the literacy level of a prospective employee when making employment decisions. Research reveals that people with poor literacy have the lowest levels of full-time employment in all sectors (Dugdale and Clark 17). The literacy level of an individual often determines his/her wages. Jobs that require high levels of literacy often pay better than those that require little or no literacy.
A person’s earning power is therefore improved by his ability to read and write. Dugdale and Clark declared that improvements in literacy have a profound effect on the economic well being of an individual (5). Improved literacy expands a person’s access to meaningful employment opportunities. According to Dugdale and Clark, good literacy is associated with higher wages and those with higher levels of literacy are more likely to have investments.
Without good literacy, an individual is at a high risk of being stuck in a low-paying job or even suffering from unemployment. The poor wages earned by the low literacy individual make it probable that he will live in overcrowded neighborhoods and depend on government relief. Research reveals that individuals with improved literacy are less likely to be on state benefits and more likely to own their own homes compared to persons with poor literacy (Dugdale and Clark 5).
Another reason why literacy is important is that it leads to better health outcomes for the person. Literacy impacts on health in a number of important ways. Directly, it increases the capability of an individual to engage in self-care. Pignone and DeWalt explain that high literacy makes it possible for patients to acquire optimal self-care knowledge and skills since they are able to attain and process complex information (897).
In such situations, the patient with poor literacy will be unable to process the information leading to adverse outcomes. In addition to this, literacy contributes to the acquisition of information on health-related matters. People with improved literature are more aware of the health risks they face and the ways in which they can mitigate these risks and achieve good health. Literacy has an indirect impact on health since it influences the lifestyle choices of individuals.
Research shows that there is a relationship between literacy and the probability that a person will engage in behavior that is detrimental to his/her health such as consuming fast foods, smoking, and drinking. Dugdale and Clark document that individuals with higher literacy consumed alcohol more responsibly and smoked less compared to poor literacy individuals (37). Lifestyle choices diseases such as heart attacks, liver cirrhosis, and lung cancer are therefore more likely to afflict those with low literacy skills.
Literacy makes a direct contribution to the growth of the nation’s economy. Street notes that literacy can be viewed in terms of the development of human resources for the economy (46). When viewed this way, literacy is an elementary skill that is crucial to the attainment of vocational and professional skills and knowledge. Individuals who possess some level of literacy can make a greater contribution to the economic prosperity of their nation.
The modern global economy is increasingly knowledge-based (Street 46). Knowledge has become the most important driver for productivity and economic growth, especially in the developed world. Information, technology, and learning play a crucial role in the economic performance of the nations. A highly literate population is, therefore, a very important asset to the nation. When a significant portion of the population is literate, the country has access to a wide pool of skilled laborers.
Finally, literacy promotes involvement by the citizens in the political process in the country. Highly literate individuals understand how a democratic government works. They know their rights and realize that they can make a difference by involving themselves in the political process. For this reason, they are more likely to vote and actively participate in the democratic process (Akanbi 18).
This observation is confirmed by UNESCO studies which show that individuals with higher literacy are more likely to participate in elections and local associations compared to individuals with poor literacy (Stromquist 5). Literacy enables individuals to not only acquire information on voting in an election but also find out about the various policies and agendas that particular candidates champion. Based on such information, the individual is able to make an informed choice during the voting activity.
In addition to this, literacy promotes participation in the policy-making process. Akanbi explains that the literate individual is exposed to information about his/her environment including the government and public institutions (18). The individual is able to present his views on matters of importance to the authorities.
Literacy makes it possible for the person to directly communicate with the government apparatus. Akanbi asserts that any formal communication with government institutes requires print communication (18). Literacy therefore enables people to express their opinion on the affairs of the community.
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Discussion and Conclusion
There is a significant relationship between literacy and several desirable socio-economic and political goods. Literacy makes a positive contribution to the economic prosperity of an individual and promotes good health. It also fosters the economic development of a nation and increases political participation. Poor literacy prohibits individuals from accessing these goods and benefiting from them. It can, therefore, be asserted that literacy is not just a desirable attribute, but an essential life skill.
This paper set out to discuss why literacy is important in today’s world. It began by acknowledging the significance of information in society today. The paper then described some of the wider benefits of literacy. It has shown that literacy contributes to the attainment of development indicators ranging from good health to poverty alleviation.
The political participation of citizens is also influenced by their literacy levels. Considering the significant benefits of literacy, more effort should be dedicated to increasing the literacy levels of all members of society. Such a move would ensure that the benefits of literacy are enjoyed universally.
Akanbi, Murtala. “Impact of Adult Literacy Programmes on Political Empowerment of Women in Kwara State.” International Journal of African and Asian Studies 2.1 (2013): 17-22. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.
Dugdale, George and Christina Clark. Literacy changes lives: An advocacy resource. London: National Literacy Trust, 2008. Print.
Pignone, Michael and Darren DeWalt. “Literacy and Health Outcomes: Is Adherence the Missing Link?” J Gen Intern Med 21.8 (2006): 896–897. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.
Street, Brian. Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives. NY: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Stromquist, Nelly. The political benefits of adult literacy. Washington: UNESCO, 2005. Print.
Wray, David. Literacy: Major Themes in Education. NY: Taylor & Francis, 2004. Print.