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Being literate is basically defined as able to read and write (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). If expanded, it can have many established meanings for this word, one of which is the "ability to read, write, spell, listen, and speak (Moats, 2000). From this, it can be said that one is literate if he is able to read and/or write, and at the same time interpret what it means.
The aspect of literacy can be expounded with the inclusion of one's "cultural, historical and political contexts," in which one should have the same framework to understand what one means (Knobel, 1999 and Lang, 1996). From this, it can be said that one's background affects its way and the meaning of the message it brings. Also, the understanding it brings will also be a major factor in bringing out his or her message.
It can be said that being literate makes one able to interact with other people more effectively, through the gaining of knowledge derived from reading, writing, and communicating. This makes one able to express more about its feelings, and also be able to understand more what is happening in its environment. Also, with this knowledge, one is not being able to be exploited easily, in which with this knowledge helps him in making proper and right decisions.
Literacy can be tied up with the aspect of education in tracing its history. Basically, the emergence of civilizations all over the world comes with the beginnings of education. It can be noted that a civilization could not exist, as well as to last years or centuries if not with the strong emphasis in education. One of the most famous cradles of education is in Ancient Greece, in which its development through the philosophers enabled the Greeks to expand and influence their culture to other regions. This, in turn, enabled Greece to have a high literacy rate, given its citizens ability to communicate fluently through writing and speaking (Ostler, 2005). This resulted in Greece being one of the foremost centers of knowledge during that period.
Religion can be said as one of the vehicles during the early history of mankind that drove the expansion of literacy to an area or region. An example of this is the Islamic Caliphates, during the expansion of the religion beginning 600s A.D. (Coulson, 2002). Along with the introduction of educational institutions like the Madrasahs throughout the Caliphates, it further expanded and enhanced their people's literacy levels (Burke, 2009). This also established the Arabs during that time as one of the foremost literate people in the region. This enabled the authorities to make its people well versed enough to understand the Islamic religion, which in turn, led to them being able to become literally able to communicate with other people from within and outside their region. With this, the Islamic religion was able to expand and influence as far as the Spanish peninsula to the West and the Indian subcontinent to the East.
Another religion which essentially used this same technique was Christianity during the Dark Ages. Although this was the time where Europe was stagnant in the aspect of knowledge (Mommsen, 1942), it was also at this time where this same knowledge was preserved by the monks and priests at the monasteries and churches. They were able to preserve their literacy through the spread of the religion, either through speaking or through the use of the Bible. Though it can be said that literacy during the period is "low," it can also be explained that the preservation of knowledge by these people during this time enabled the said knowledge to be passed on, in some way, to the next generations (Papadakis, 1994). From this, they were able to slowly regain and inculcate knowledge to the people which led to the period of history known as the Renaissance. The invention of book printing by Johannes Gutenberg during this period enabled the people to have more access to reading materials available during that time. These said materials are needed for them to acquire knowledge, which in turn making them more literate (McLuhan, 1962). Europe was seen as the forefront of this process, in which the expansion in the use of the printing press and the circulation of many works, novels and manuscripts, among others, equipped the people with adequate understanding and thus, made them able to communicate better with each other. From this, they could further its influence and introduce this through their explorers to the New World.
The Industrial Revolution further enabled many people to have access to reading materials. The mass production of books and other materials made it more accessible even to ordinary folks, which made them adept in reading and understanding its meaning. Also, making it affordable enabled people to be more understandable on what they read, and in turn, they were able to express more on what they feel and want. This process continued until today, wherein people primarily were able to gain knowledge, and with it become literate with the help of education and of reading.
Today, with the introduction of technology to almost all aspects of life also provided an avenue for the further enhancement of literacy. From this, the concept of "New Literacies," which basically refers to the use of technology to provide new forms of literacy techniques and programs, was introduced. This was first introduced by David Buckingham in an academic article in 1993 (Buckingham 1993). Examples of these "New Literacies" are concepts that were introduced basically through technology: blogging, digital storytelling, emailing, instant messaging, having a website, online chat and discussion, social networking etc. (Coiro et. al., 2008 and Jenkins, 2006). These new forms helped in further increasing knowledge and in general, enhancing the communication process of people through these technological processes. Also, people are able to gain further knowledge and at the same time express their feelings through this new medium.
It is described that literacy is focused on a given set of skills, which include comprehension, fluency, phonics, phonological awareness, and vocabulary. The said skills are the basic requirements to be able to become good readers, which in turn would make them literate enough to understand (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). In turn, the lack of any one of these skills would make one to have an "incomplete" understanding of any reading material, in which each skill is important in one being able not only to read but also to write and interpret as well.
To be able to achieve being literate, one has to consider two skills, "the ability to understand the language in which the text is written, and the ability to recognize and process printed text." (Hoover and Gough, 2000) From this, one will be able to read and at the same time comprehend what he has read. Also, one will be able to understand and be able to communicate what they understand to other people.
Through time, the interpretation of literacy became expanded, in which different aspects were interlinked with it. An example of this is of which literacy is interpreted as ideological, having with it the same "context" as of that of the other. Along with it are the "values," in which should also be present to both the reader and the one who is interpreting it (Goody, 1986). This means that both should be in the same understanding, as which one cannot understand and/or misinterpret the other if they have different perspectives.
Illiteracy, in turn, is the inability of a person to read and write, which usually results to his failure to communicate properly with other people. There are many kinds of illiteracy depending on the nature of its handicap. One of this is functional illiteracy, which concerns "reading and writing skills that are inadequate to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level" (Schlechty, n.d.). This means people who are functionally illiterate can still read and/or write but are limited to simple sentences only. Also, they cannot understand way beyond more complex sentences. For example, he can understand what a "No Smoking" sign means, but cannot explain what led to the posting of the said sign. In contrast, a purely illiterate person cannot read and/or write completely. Being functionally illiterate can be interpreted as being a reflection to a person's environment and his inability to acquire complete proper education. People in this kind of situation usually have not completed grade school. Also, statistics can predict a viable future for this kind of persons. One can become juvenile delinquent in their teenage years and lived way below the poverty line as they grow older (Health Literacy of America's Adults, 2006).
One factor that can result to having a low literacy rate is the lack of support by the government in pursuing programs that will help the people in acquiring knowledge. This can be traced to the quality of schools people attend to, in which if a school is not that keen in bringing out the potential of students; he is in turn unable to acquire even the basic knowledge he needs. Schools should provide the building blocks the students need in acquiring and honing their skills to be able to acquire knowledge. Also, as seen in Third World countries, basic materials like pens and papers cannot be afforded by the poor, which lead them into having little or no knowledge at all (Milner, 2006).
Another aspect of literacy is being "alliterate," in which refers to being uninterested in reading and/or writing even if he has the ability to do so. This has been evident in First World countries, as contrast to being illiterate being present in Third World countries (Cohen, 1991). This is being uninterested in reading and focusing more of their attention in other activities they see as more beneficiary for them. This can be interpreted as people giving more priority in technological gadgets like watching television than reading a book. This creates an alarm to many educators since the people of this generation have lost their desire to read and write and at the same time being contented in their actual situation without thinking of their future. As stated earlier, many put the blame on technology, especially on television, which was described as something that has fragmented our society (Weeks, 2001).
IV. Programs to promote literacy
Governments are very well aware of having a very high literacy rate of its people. From this, they are initiating programs and policies that would uplift and provide better sources of knowledge for the people. Primary to this is the greater emphasis on education, in which it is the primary source of knowledge for all the people. Aside from this, many private individuals, companies, corporations, and non-profit organizations help the government in pursuing the goal of having proper knowledge to help in the development of the country.
One of these programs is the Global Literacy Project (GLP), a non-profit, New Jersey-based organization "that develops community-based literacy initiatives throughout the world primarily through the creation of libraries and library support programs in rural schools and community centers in the poorer regions of the world like Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia. Their primary programs include the distribution of books; building and providing school libraries; and establishing community learning centers to poor communities throughout the world. In relation to this, community development is also included to their program to provide livelihood to poor families at the same time provide education through the above-mentioned programs (Agee, 2003 and Niessen 2004).
Multi-national corporations also take part in providing ways and means in helping people achieve literacy. Telecommunications company Motorola allotted five million dollars to teach its workers skills in reading. Also, automaker Ford Motor Company has been sending 32,000 of its workers to reading skills sessions (Sherman, 1991).
Literacy is one of the main possessions a person should have to survive today's world. One should take notice that being literate is also able to answer all the challenges in his or her environment, whether being material or intellectual in nature. This is his weapon in combating any obstacle he will face. Also, being literate means one is essentially part of his environment, in which he is a vital cog in the overall development and also for his own personal development as well.
A problem to the continuous development of illiteracy is the accessibility still, of many people to any reading materials and/or to education. We can still see and hear the lack of education of many people in the world, not to mention their inability to read and write. This is being exploited by many people, deceiving them by providing false information and making them easy to believe in something that is really not true. They were also being neglected because of them being illiterate, believing that they have no use for the country.
The government and the people as well should be hand-in-hand in providing literacy to its people, this being part of their obligation for the country. The government on its part should provide all the necessary mechanisms, policies, and programs to be able to have its people a fair opportunity to gain and acquire knowledge. This will be advantageous for the government for it will not only lessen the problem on poverty, but also will help in the development of the country as well, having a productive citizenry for the progress of the country. The people, in turn, should also help the government by using their acquired knowledge not only for their betterment but also for the development of their country. By using this to help the government in servicing the country, this will help in providing higher productivity rate for them and also for the overall production capability of their country. Also, people should also share their knowledge to other people who are still and/or had little knowledge on their environment, especially through reading and writing. This will not only bring them satisfaction in helping others but also providing the unfortunate ones an opportunity to be like them, having acquired knowledge and using it for their development. Also, providing them with these building blocks will surely help them in their continuous thirst for knowledge.