Post Literacy Definition Essay

"Reading and writing" redirects here. For the journal, see Reading and Writing (journal).

Literacy is traditionally meant as the ability to read and write .[1] The modern term's meaning has been expanded to include the ability to use language, numbers, images, computers, and other basic means to understand, communicate, gain useful knowledge, solve mathematical problems and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture.[2] The concept of literacy is expanding in OECD countries to include skills to access knowledge through technology and ability to assess complex contexts.[2] A person who travels and resides in a foreign country but is unable to read or write in the language of the host country would also be regarded by the locals as being illiterate.

The key to literacy is reading development, a progression of skills that begins with the ability to understand spoken words and decode written words, and culminates in the deep understanding of text. Reading development involves a range of complex language underpinnings including awareness of speech sounds (phonology), spelling patterns (orthography), word meaning (semantics), grammar (syntax) and patterns of word formation (morphology), all of which provide a necessary platform for reading fluency and comprehension.

Once these skills are acquired, the reader can attain full language literacy, which includes the abilities to apply to printed material critical analysis, inference and synthesis; to write with accuracy and coherence; and to use information and insights from text as the basis for informed decisions and creative thought.[3] The inability to do so is called illiteracy or analphabetism.[4]

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the "ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society".[5]

History[edit]

See also: History of writing and History of education

Prehistoric literacy[edit]

Origins of literacy[edit]

Literacy is thought to have first emerged with the development of numeracy and computational devices as early as 8,000 BCE. Script developed independently at least four times in human history in Mesopotamia, Egypt, lowland Mesoamerica, and China.[6]

The earliest forms of written communication originated in Sumer, located in southern Mesopotamia about 3500-3000 BCE. During this era, literacy was "a largely functional matter, propelled by the need to manage the new quantities of information and the new type of governance created by trade and large scale production".[7] Writing systems in Mesopotamia first emerged from a recording system in which people used impressed token markings to manage trade and agricultural production.[8] The token system served as a precursor to early cuneiform writing once people began recording information on clay tablets. Proto-cuneiform texts exhibit not only numerical signs, but also ideograms depicting objects being counted.[6]

Egyptian hieroglyphs emerged from 3300-3100 BCE and depicted royal iconography that emphasized power amongst other elites. The Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system was the first notation system to have phonetic values.

Writing in lowland Mesoamerica was first put into practice by the Olmec and Zapotec civilizations in 900-400 BCE. These civilizations used glyphic writing and bar-and-dot numerical notation systems for purposes related to royal iconography and calendar systems.

The earliest written notations in China date back to the Shang Dynasty in 1200 BCE. These systematic notations were found inscribed on bones and recorded sacrifices made, tributes received, and animals hunted, which were activities of the elite. These oracle-bone inscriptions were the early ancestors of modern Chinese script and contained logosyllabic script and numerals.

These examples indicate that early acts of literacy were closely tied to power and chiefly used for management practices, and probably less than 1% of the population was literate, as it was confined to a very small ruling elite.

Origins of the alphabet[edit]

According to social anthropologistJack Goody, there are two interpretations that regard the origin of the alphabet. Many classical scholars, such as historian Ignace Gelb, credit the Ancient Greeks for creating the first alphabetic system (c. 750 BCE) that used distinctive signs for consonants and vowels. But Goody contests, "The importance of Greek culture of the subsequent history of Western Europe has led to an over-emphasis, by classicists and others, on the addition of specific vowel signs to the set of consonantal ones that had been developed earlier in Western Asia".[9]

Thus, many scholars argue that the ancient Semitic-speaking peoples of northern Canaan (modern-day Syria) invented the consonantal alphabet as early as 1500 BCE. Much of this theory's development is credited to English archeologist Flinders Petrie, who, in 1905, came across a series of Canaanite inscriptions located in the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Khadem. Ten years later, English Egyptologist Alan Gardiner reasoned that these letters contain an alphabet, as well as references to the Canaanite goddess Asherah. In 1948, William F. Albright deciphered the text using additional evidence that had been discovered subsequent to Goody's findings. This included a series of inscriptions from Ugarit, discovered in 1929 by French archaeologist Claude F. A. Schaeffer. Some of these inscriptions were mythological texts (written in an early Canaanite dialect) that consisted of a 32-letter cuneiform consonantal alphabet.

Another significant discovery was made in 1953 when three arrowheads were uncovered, each containing identical Canaanite inscriptions from twelfth century BCE. According to Frank Moore Cross, these inscriptions consisted of alphabetic signs that originated during the transitional development from pictographic script to a linear alphabet. Moreover, he asserts, "These inscriptions also provided clues to extend the decipherment of earlier and later alphabetic texts".[10]

The consonantal system of the Canaanite script inspired alphabetical developments in subsequent systems. During the Late Bronze Age, successor alphabets appeared throughout the Mediterranean region and were employed for Phoenician, Hebrew and Aramaic.

According to Goody, these cuneiform scripts may have influenced the development of the Greek alphabet several centuries later. Historically, the Greeks contended that their writing system was modeled after the Phoenicians. However, many Semitic scholars now believe that Ancient Greek is more consistent with an early form Canaanite that was used c. 1100 BCE. While the earliest Greek inscriptions are dated c. eighth century BCE, epigraphical comparisons to Proto-Canaanite suggest that the Greeks may have adopted the consonantal alphabet as early as 1100 BCE, and later "added in five characters to represent vowels".[11]

Phoenician, which is considered to contain the first "linear alphabet", rapidly spread to the Mediterranean port cities in northern Canaan.[10] Some archeologists believe that Phoenician scripture had some influence on the developments of the Hebrew and Aramaic alphabets based on the fact that these languages evolved during the same time period, share similar features, and are commonly categorized into the same language group.[12]

When the Israelites migrated to Canaan between 1200 and 1001 BCE, they also adopted a variation of the Canaanite alphabet. Baruch ben Neriah, Jeremiah's scribe, used this alphabet to create the later scripts of the Old Testament. The Early Hebrew alphabet was prominent in the Mediterranean region until Chaldean Babylonian rulers exiled the Jews to Babylon in the sixth century BCE. It was then that the new script ("Square Hebrew") emerged and the older one rapidly died out.[11]

The Aramaic alphabet also emerged sometime between 1200 and 1001 BCE. As the Bronze Age collapsed, the Aramaeans moved into Canaan and Phoenician territories and adopted their scripts. Although early evidence of this writing is scarce, archeologists have uncovered a wide range of later Aramaic texts, written as early as the seventh century BCE. Due to its longevity and prevalence in the region, Achaemenid rulers would come to adopt it as a "diplomatic language".[13] The modern Aramaic alphabet rapidly spread east to the Kingdom of Nabataea, then to Sinai and the Arabian Peninsula, eventually making its way to Africa. Aramaic merchants carried older variations of the language as far as India, where it later influenced the development of Brahmi scripture. It also led to the developments of Arabic, Pahlavi (an Iranian adaptation), "as well as for a range of alphabets used by early Turkish and Mongol tribes in Siberia, Mongolia and Turkestan".[14] Literacy at this period spread with the merchant classes and may have grown to number 15-20% of the total population.

The Aramaic language would die out with the spread of Islam and with it, its influence of Arabic.

Ancient and post-classical literacy[edit]

Further information: Latin alphabet

Until recently it was thought that the majority of people were illiterate in ancient times. However, recent work would challenge this perception.[15] Anthony DiRenzo asserts that Roman society was "a civilization based on the book and the register", and "no one, either free or slave, could afford to be illiterate".[16] Similarly Dupont points out, "The written word was all around them, in both public and private life: laws, calendars, regulations at shrines, and funeral epitaphs were engraved in stone or bronze. The Republic amassed huge archives of reports on every aspect of public life".[17]

When the Western Roman Empire fell apart, literacy became a distinguishing mark of the elite, and communications skills were politically important. Even so, in pre-modern times it is unlikely that literacy was found in more than about 30-40% of the population.[18]

In the late fourth century the Desert FatherPachomius would expect literacy of a candidate for admission to his monasteries:

they shall give him twenty Psalms or two of the Apostles' epistles or some other part of Scripture. And if he is illiterate he shall go at the first, third and sixth hours to someone who can teach and has been appointed for him. He shall stand before him and learn very studiously and with all gratitude. The fundamentals of a syllable, the verbs and nouns shall all be written for him and even if he does not want to he shall be compelled to read.[19]

Modern literacy[edit]

Spread of literacy since the mid-twentieth century[edit]

Literacy data published by UNESCO displays that since 1950, the adult literacy rate at the world level has increased by 5 percentage points every decade on average, from 55.7 per cent in 1950 to 86.2 per cent in 2015. However, for four decades, the population growth was so rapid that the number of illiterate adults kept increasing, rising from 700 million in 1950 to 878 million in 1990. Since then, the number has fallen markedly to 745 million in 2015, although it remains higher than in 1950 despite decades of universal education policies, literacy interventions and the spread of print material and information and communications technology (ICT). However, these trends have been far from uniform across regions.[20]

Regional disparities[edit]

Cross-national comparisons of literacy rates are imperfect, given that different countries define literacy in different ways.[21] However, available global data indicates significant variations in literacy rates between world regions. North America, Europe, West Asia, and Central Asia have achieved almost full adult literacy (individuals at or over the age of 15) for both men and women. Most countries in East Asia and the Pacific, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, are above a 90% literacy rate for adults.[22] Illiteracy persists to a greater extent in other regions: 2013 UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data indicates adult literacy rates of only, 67.55% in South Asia and North Africa, 59.76% in Sub-Saharan Africa.[23]

In much of the world, high youth literacy rates suggest that illiteracy will become less and less common as younger generations with higher educational attainment levels replace older ones.[24] However, in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the vast majority of the world's illiterate youth live, lower school enrollment implies that illiteracy will persist to a greater degree.[25] According to 2013 UIS data, the youth literacy rate (individuals ages 15 to 24) is 84.03% in South Asia and North Africa, and 70.06% in Sub-Saharan Africa.[23]

That being said, literacy has rapidly spread in several regions in the last twenty-five years (see image).[20]

Gender disparities[edit]

On a worldwide scale, illiteracy disproportionately impacts women.[26] According to 2015 UIS data collected by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, about two-thirds (63%) of the world's illiterate adults are women. This disparity was even starker in previous decades: from 1970 to 2000, the global gender gap in literacy would decrease by roughly 50%.[27] In recent years, however, this progress has stagnated, with the remaining gender gap holding almost constant over the last two decades.[22] In general, the gender gap in literacy is not as pronounced as the regional gap; that is, differences between countries in overall literacy are often larger than gender differences within countries.[28] However, the gap between men and women would narrow from 1990 onwards, after the increase of male adult literacy rates at 80 per cent (see image).[20]

Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the lowest overall literacy rates, also features the widest gender gap: just 52% of adult females are literate, and 68% among adult men. Similar gender disparity persists in two other regions, North Africa (86% adult male literacy, 70% adult female literacy) and South Asia (77% adult male literacy, 58% adult female literacy).[22]

The 1990 World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtien, Thailand, would bring attention to the literacy gender gap and prompt many developing countries to prioritize women's literacy.[29] In the past decade, global development agendas would increasingly address the issue of female literacy. For example, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would center his 2010 International Literacy Day speech around the theme "Empowering Women Through Literacy Empowers Us All," emphasizing the broad societal progress that higher female literacy rates could promote.[26]

In many contexts, female illiteracy co-exists with other aspects of gender inequality. Martha Nussbaum, for example, make illiterate women more vulnerable to becoming trapped in an abusive marriage, given that illiteracy limits their employment opportunities and worsens their intra-household bargaining position. Moreover, Nussbaum links literacy to the potential for women to effectively communicate and collaborate with one another in order "to participate in a larger movement for political change."[30]

Challenges of increasing female literacy[edit]

Social barriers prevent expanding literacy skills among women and girls. Making literacy classes available can be ineffective when it conflicts with the use of the valuable limited time of women and girls.[31] School age girls, in many contexts, face stronger expectations than their male counterparts to perform household work and care after younger siblings.[32] Generational dynamics can also perpetuate these disparities: illiterate parents may not readily appreciate the value of literacy for their daughters, particularly in traditional, rural societies with expectations that girls will remain at home.[33]

A 2015 World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women review of academic literature would conclude that child marriage, which predominantly impacts girls, tends to reduce literacy levels.[34] A 2008 analysis of the issue in Bangladesh found that for every additional year of delay in a girl's marriage, her likelihood of literacy would increase by 5.6 percent.[35] Similarly, a 2014 study found that in sub-Saharan Africa, marrying early would significantly decrease a girl's probability of literacy, holding other variables constant.[36] A 2015 review of the child marriage literature therefore would recommend marriage postponement as part of a strategy to increase educational attainment levels, including female literacy in particular.[37]

Gender gap for boys in developed countries[edit]

While women and girls comprise the majority of the global illiterate population, in many developed countries a literacy gender gap exists in the opposite direction. Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has consistently indicated the literacy underachievement of boys within member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[38] In view of such findings, many education specialists have recommended changes in classroom practices to better accommodate boys' learning styles, and to remove any gender stereotypes that may create a perception of reading and writing as feminine activities.[39][40]

Socioeconomic impact[edit]

Many policy analysts consider literacy rates as a crucial measure of the value of a region's human capital. For example, literate people can be more easily trained than illiterate people, and generally have a higher socioeconomic status;[41] thus they enjoy better health and employment prospects. The international community has come to consider literacy as a key facilitator and goal of development.[42] In regard to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2015, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning has declared the "central role of literacy in responding to sustainable development challenges such as health, social equality, economic empowerment and environmental sustainability."[43]

Health impacts[edit]

Illiterate people are generally less knowledgeable about hygiene and nutritional practices, an unawareness which can exacerbate a wide range of health issues.[44] Within developing countries in particular, literacy rates also have implications for child mortality; in these contexts, children of literate mothers are 50% more likely to live past age 5 than children of illiterate mothers.[32] Public health research has thus increasingly concerned itself with the potential for literacy skills to allow women to more successfully access health care systems, and thereby facilitate gains in child health.[45]

For example, a 2014 descriptive research survey project correlates literacy levels with the socioeconomic status of women in Oyo State, Nigeria. The study claims that developing literacy in this area will bring "economic empowerment and will encourage rural women to practice hygiene, which will in turn lead to the reduction of birth and death rates."[46]

Economic impacts[edit]

Literacy can increase job opportunities and access to higher education. In 2009, the National Adult Literacy agency (NALA) in Ireland commissioned a cost benefit analysis of adult literacy training. This concluded that there were economic gains for the individuals, the companies they worked for, and the Exchequer, as well as the economy and the country as a whole—for example, increased GDP.[47]Korotayev and coauthors have revealed a rather significant correlation between the level of literacy in the early 19th century and successful modernization and economic breakthroughs in the late 20th century, as "literate people could be characterized by a greater innovative-activity level, which provides opportunities for modernization, development, and economic growth".[48]

Literacy promotion efforts[edit]

While informal learning within the home can play an important role in literacy development, gains in childhood literacy often occur in primary school settings. Continuing the global expansion of public education is thus a frequent focus of literacy advocates.[49] These kinds of broad improvements in education often require centralized efforts undertaken by national governments; alternatively, local literacy projects implemented by NGOs can play an important role, particularly in rural contexts.[50]

Funding for both youth and adult literacy programs often comes from large international development organizations. USAID, for example, steered donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Partnership for Education toward the issue of childhood literacy by developing the Early Grade Reading Assessment.[51] Advocacy groups like the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education have frequently called upon international organizations such as UNESCO, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank to prioritize support for adult women's literacy.[52] Efforts to increase adult literacy often encompass other development priorities as well; for example, initiatives in Ethiopia, Morocco, and India have combined adult literacy programs with vocational skills trainings in order to encourage enrollment and address the complex needs of women and other marginalized groups who lack economic opportunity.[53]

In 2013, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning published a set of case studies[54] on programs that successfully improved female literacy rates. The report features countries from a variety of regions and of differing income levels, reflecting the general global consensus on "the need to empower women through the acquisition of literacy skills."[55] Part of the impetus for UNESCO's focus on literacy is a broader effort to respond to globalization and "the shift towards knowledge-based societies" that it has produced.[56] While globalization presents emerging challenges, it also provides new opportunities: many education and development specialists are hopeful that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) will have the potential to expand literacy learning opportunities for children and adults, even those in countries that have historically struggled to improve literacy rates through more conventional means.[57]

Literacy as a development indicator[edit]

The Human Development Index, produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), uses education as one of its three indicators; originally, adult literacy represented two-thirds of this education index weight. In 2010, however, the UNDP replaced the adult literacy measure with mean years of schooling. A 2011 UNDP research paper framed this change as a way to "ensure current relevance," arguing that gains in global literacy already achieved between 1970 and 2010 meant that literacy would be "unlikely to be as informative of the future."[58] Other scholars, however, have since warned against overlooking the importance of literacy as an indicator and a goal for development, particularly for marginalized groups such as women and rural populations.[59]

Literacy as a human right[edit]

Literacy is a human right essential for lifelong learning and social change. As supported by the 1996 Report of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century, and the 1997 Hamburg Declaration: ‘Literacy, broadly conceived as the basic knowledge and skills needed by all in a rapidly changing world, is a fundamental human right. (...) There are millions, the majority of whom are women, who lack opportunities to learn or who have insufficient skills to be able to assert this right. The challenge is to enable them to do so. This will often imply the creation of preconditions for learning through awareness raising and empowerment. Literacy is also a catalyst for participation in social, cultural, political and economic activities, and for learning throughout life’.[60][61]

U.S. public library efforts to promote literacy[edit]

The public library has long been a force promoting literacy in many countries.[62] In the U.S. context, the American Library Association promotes literacy through the work of the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. This committee's charge includes ensuring equitable access to information and advocating for adult new and non-readers.[63] The Public Library Association recognizes the importance of early childhood in the role of literacy development and created, in collaboration with the Association for Library Service to Children, Every Child Ready to Read @your library in order to inform and support parents and caregivers in their efforts to raise children who become literate adults.[64] The release of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) report in 2005 revealed that approximately 14% of U.S. adults function at the lowest level of literacy; 29% of adults function at the basic functional literacy level and cannot help their children with homework beyond the first few grades.[65] The lack of reading skills hinders adults from reaching their full potential. They might have difficulty getting and maintaining a job, providing for their families, or even reading a story to their children. For adults, the library might be the only source of a literacy program.[66]

30 April: Dia! Diversity in Action[edit]

Dia! Which stand for Diversity in Action and is also known as "El Dia de los Ninos/El dia de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day)" is a program which celebrates the importance of reading to children from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Dia! is celebrated every year on 30 April in schools, libraries, and homes and this website provides tools and programs to encourage reading in children. Parents, caregivers, and educators can even start a book club.[67]

READ/Orange County[edit]

This community literacy program was initiated in 1992 by the Orange County Public Library in California. The mission of READ/Orange County is to "create a more literate community by providing diversified services of the highest quality to all who seek them." Potential tutors train during an extensive 23-hour tutor training workshop in which they learn the philosophy, techniques and tools they will need to work with adult learns.[66] After the training, the tutors invest at least 50 hours a year to tutoring their student.The organization builds on people's experience as well as education rather than trying to make up for what has not been learned. The program seeks to equip students with skills to continue learning in the future.[66] The guiding philosophy is that an adult who learns to read creates a ripple effect in the community. The person becomes an example to children and grandchildren and can better serve the community.

BoulderReads![edit]

Located in Boulder, Colorado, the program recognized the difficulty that students had in obtaining child care while attending tutoring sessions, and joined with the University of Colorado to provide reading buddies to the children of students. Reading Buddies matches children of adult literacy students with college students who meet with them once a week throughout the semester for an hour and a half. The college students receive course credit to try to enhance the quality and reliability of their time.[68] Each Reading Buddies session focuses primarily on the college student reading aloud with the child. The goal is to help the child gain interest in books and feel comfortable reading aloud. Time is also spent on word games, writing letters, or searching for books in the library. Throughout the semester the pair work on writing and illustrating a book together. The college student's grade is partly dependent on the completion of the book. Although Reading Buddies began primarily as an answer to the lack of child care for literacy students, it has evolved into another aspect of the program.[68] Participating children show marked improvement in their reading and writing skills throughout the semester.

Hillsborough Literacy Council (HLC)[edit]

Approximately 120,000 adults in Hillsborough County are illiterate or read below the fourth-grade level. Working since 1986, the HLC is "committed to improving literacy by empowering adults through education".[69] Sponsored by the statewide Florida Literacy Coalition, HLC strives to improve the literacy ability of adults in Hillsborough County, Florida. The HLC provides tutoring for English for speakers of other languages (ESOL). Through one-on-one tutoring, the organization works to help adult students reach at least the fifth-grade level.

Broader and complementary definitions[edit]

Traditionally, literacy is the ability to use written language actively and passively; one definition of literacy is the ability to "read, write, spell, listen, and speak".[70] Since the 1980s, some have argued that literacy is ideological, which means that literacy always exists in a context, in tandem with the values associated with that context.[71][72] Prior work viewed literacy as existing autonomously.[73][74][75][76]

Some have argued that the definition of literacy should be expanded. For example, in the United States, the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association have added "visually representing"[clarification needed] to the traditional list of competencies. Similarly, in Scotland, literacy has been defined as: "The ability to read, write and use numeracy, to handle information, to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, as family members, workers, citizens and lifelong learners".[77] It is argued that literacy includes the cultural, political, and historical contexts of the community in which communication takes place.[78][79]

A basic literacy standard in many places is the ability to read the newspaper. Increasingly, communication in commerce and in general requires the ability to use computers and other digital technologies. Since the 1990s, when the Internet came into wide use in the United States, some have asserted that the definition of literacy should include the ability to use tools such as web browsers, word processing programs, and text messages. Similar expanded skill sets have been called multimedia literacy, computer literacy, information literacy, and technological literacy.[80][81] Some scholars propose the idea multiliteracies which includes Functional Literacy, Critical Literacy, and Rhetorical Literacy.[82]

"Arts literacy" programs exist in some places in the United States.[83]Visual literacy also includes the ability to understand visual forms of communication such as body language, pictures, maps, and video.[84] Evolving definitions of literacy often include all the symbol systems relevant to a particular community.

Other genres under study by academia include critical literacy, media literacy, ecological literacy and health literacy[85] With the increasing emphasis on evidence-based decision making, and the use of statistical graphics and information, statistical literacy is becoming a very important aspect of literacy in general. The International Statistical Literacy Project[86] is dedicated to the promotion of statistical literacy among all members of society.

Given that a large part of the benefits of literacy can be obtained by having access to a literate person in the household, some recent literature in economics, starting with the work of Kaushik Basu and James Foster, distinguishes between a "proximate illiterate" and an "isolated illiterate". The former refers to an illiterate person who lives in a household with literates and the latter to an illiterate who lives in a household of all illiterates. What is of concern is that many people in poor nations are not just illiterates but isolated illiterates.

Teaching literacy[edit]

Main article: Learning to read

Teaching English literacy in the United States is dominated by a focus on a set of discrete decoding skills. From this perspective, literacy—or, rather, reading—comprises a number of subskills that can be taught to students. These skill sets include phonological awareness, phonics (decoding), fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. Mastering each of these subskills is necessary for students to become proficient readers.[87]

From this same perspective, readers of alphabetic languages must understand the alphabetic principle to master basic reading skills. For this purpose a writing system is "alphabetic" if it uses symbols to represent individual language sounds,[88] though the degree of correspondence between letters and sounds varies between alphabetic languages. Syllabic writing systems (such as Japanesekana) use a symbol to represent a single syllable, and logographic writing systems (such as Chinese) use a symbol to represent a morpheme.[89]

There are any number of approaches to teaching literacy; each is shaped by its informing assumptions about what literacy is[citation needed] and how it is best learned by students. Phonics instruction, for example, focuses on reading at the level of the word. It teaches readers to observe and interpret the letters or groups of letters that make up words. A common method of teaching phonics is synthetic phonics, in which a novice reader pronounces each individual sound and "blends" them to pronounce the whole word. Another approach is embedded phonics instruction, used more often in whole language reading instruction, in which novice readers learn about the individual letters in words on a just-in-time, just-in-place basis that is tailored to meet each student's reading and writing learning needs.[88] That is, teachers provide phonics instruction opportunistically, within the context of stories or student writing that feature many instances of a particular letter or group of letters. Embedded instruction combines letter-sound knowledge with the use of meaningful context to read new and difficult words.[90] Techniques such as directed listening and thinking activities can be used to aid children in learning how to read and reading comprehension.

In a 2012 proposal, it has been claimed that reading can be acquired naturally if print is constantly available at an early age in the same manner as spoken language.[91] If an appropriate form of written text is made available before formal schooling begins, reading should be learned inductively, emerge naturally, and with no significant negative consequences. This proposal challenges the commonly held belief that written language requires formal instruction and schooling. Its success would change current views of literacy and schooling. Using developments in behavioral science and technology, an interactive system (Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition, TARA) would enable young pre-literate children to accurately perceive and learn properties of written language by simple exposure to the written form.

In Australia a number of State governments have introduced Reading Challenges to improve literacy. The Premier's Reading Challenge in South Australia, launched by Premier Mike Rann has one of the highest participation rates in the world for reading challenges. It has been embraced by more than 95% of public, private and religious schools.[92]

Post-conflict settings[edit]

Programs have been implemented in regions that have an ongoing conflict or in a post-conflict stage. The Norwegian Refugee Council Pack program has been used in 13 post-conflict countries since 2003. The program organizers believe that daily routines and other wise predictable activities help the transition from war to peace. Learners can select one area in vocational training for a year-long period. They complete required courses in agriculture, life skills, literacy and numeracy. Results have shown that active participation and management of the members of the program are important to the success of the program. These programs share the use of integrated basic education, e.g. literacy, numeracy, scientific knowledge, local history and culture, native and mainstream language skills, and apprenticeships.[93]

Teaching non-native users[edit]

Although there is considerable awareness that language deficiencies (lacking proficiency) are disadvantageous to immigrants settling in a new host country, there appears to be a lack of pedagogical approaches that address the instruction of literacy to migrant English language learners (ELLs). Harvard scholar Catherine Snow (2001) called for a gap to be addresses: "The TESOL field needs a concerted research effort to inform literacy instruction for such children ... to determine when to start literacy instruction and how to adapt it to the LS reader's needs".[94] The scenario becomes more complex when there is no choice in such decisions as in the case of the current migration trends with citizens from the Middle East and Africa being relocated to English majority nations due to various political or social reasons. Recent developments to address the gap in teaching literacy to second or foreign language learners has been ongoing and promising results have been shown by Pearson and Pellerine (2010)[95] which integrates Teaching for Understanding, a curricular framework from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A series of pilot projects had been carried out in the Middle East and Africa (see Patil, 2016).[96] In this work significant interest from the learners perspective have been noticed through the integration of visual arts as springboards for literacy oriented instruction. In one case migrant women had been provided with cameras and a walking tour of their local village was provided to the instructor as the women photographed their tour focusing on places and activities that would later be used for writings about their daily life. In essence a narrative of life. Other primers for writing activities include: painting, sketching, and other craft projects (e.g. gluing activities).

A series of pilot studies were carried out to investigate alternatives to instructing literacy to migrant ELLs,[97] starting from simple trials aiming to test the teaching of photography to participants with no prior photography background, to isolating painting and sketching activities that could later be integrated into a larger pedagogical initiative. In efforts to develop alternative approaches for literacy instruction utilising visual arts, work was carried out with Afghan labourers, Bangladeshi tailors, Emirati media students, internal Ethiopian migrants (both labourers and university students), and a street child.[96][98][97]

It should be pointed out that in such challenging contexts sometimes the teaching of literacy may have unforeseen barriers. The EL Gazette reported that in the trials carried out in Ethiopia, for example, it was found that all ten of the participants had problems with vision.[98] In order to overcome this, or to avoid such challenges, preliminary health checks can help inform pre-teaching in order to better assist in the teaching/learning of literacy.

In a visual arts approach to literacy instruction a benefit can be the inclusion of both a traditional literacy approach (reading and writing) while at the same time addressing 21st Century digital literacy instruction through the inclusion of digital cameras and posting images onto the web. Many scholars[99] feel that the inclusion of digital literacy is necessary to include under the traditional umbrella of literacy instruction specifically when engaging second language learners. (Also see: Digital literacy.)[100][better source needed]

Other ways in which visual arts have been integrated into literacy instruction for migrant populations include integrating aspects of visual art with the blending of core curricular goals.

Teaching migrant/immigrant language users[edit]

A more pressing challenge in education is the instruction of literacy to Migrant English Language Learners (MELLs), a term coined by Pellerine. It is not just limited to English. “Due to the growing share of immigrants in many Western societies, there has been increasing concern for the degree to which immigrants acquire language that is spoken in the destination country” (Tubergen 2006).[101] Remembering that teaching literacy to a native in their L1 can be challenging, and the challenge becomes more cognitively demanding when in a second language (L2), the task can become considerably more difficult when confronted with a migrant who has made a sudden change (migrated) and requires the second language upon arrival in the country of destination. In many instances a migrant will not have the opportunity, for many obvious reasons, to start school again at grade one and acquire the language naturally. In these situations alternative interventions need to take place.

In working with illiterate people (and individuals with low-proficiency in an L2) following the composition of some artifact like in taking a photo, sketching an event, or painting an image, a stage of orality has been seen as an effective way to understand the intention of the learner.

In the accompanying image from left to right a) an image taken during a phototour of the participant's village. This image is of the individual at her shop, and this is one of her products that she sells, dung for cooking fuel. The image helps the interlocutor understand the realities of the participants daily life and most importantly it allows the participant the opportunity to select what they feel is important to them. b) This is an image of a student explaining and elaborating the series of milestones in her life to a group. In this image the student had a very basic ability and with some help was able to write brief captions under the images. While she speaks a recording of her story takes place to understand her story and to help develop it in the L2. The third image is of a painting that had been used with a composite in Photoshop. With further training participants can learn how to blend images they would like to therefore introducing elements of digital literacies, beneficial in many spheres of life in the 21st century.[102]

World map indicating literacy rate by country in 2015 (2015 CIA World Factbook) Grey = no data
World illiteracy halved between 1970 and 2015 .
Brain areas involved in literacy acquisition
Illiteracy rate in France in the 18th and 19th centuries
Bill of sale of a male slave and a building in Shuruppak, Sumerian tablet, circa 2600 BC
Adult literacy rates have increased at a constant pace since 1950.
Literacy has rapidly spread in several regions over the last twenty-five years.
Gender parity indices in youth literacy rates by region, 1990–2015. Progress towards gender parity in literacy started after 1990.
Reviewing photos after photowalk
Integrating Common Core content into language training with MELL

* Illustration: Mads Berg * As the school year begins, be ready to hear pundits fretting once again about how kids today can't write—and technology is to blame. Facebook encourages narcissistic blabbering, video and PowerPoint have replaced carefully crafted essays, and texting has dehydrated language into "bleak, bald, sad shorthand" (as University College of London English professor John Sutherland has moaned). An age of illiteracy is at hand, right?

Andrea Lunsford isn't so sure. Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.

"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn't find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

Of course, good teaching is always going to be crucial, as is the mastering of formal academic prose. But it's also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.

We think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

Emailclive@clivethompson.net.

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