What is literacy in general?
“the ability to understand and employ
printed information in daily activities,
* at home, at work and in community,
* to achieve one’s goals, and
* to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
International Adult Literacy Survey, 1993 – 1998
Since 1993 the Internet and other developments require us to ignore the “printed” in this definition.
The literacy skill levels
Skills were rated on levels one to five, lowest to highest, for prose, document, and numeracy.
Levels and skill descriptions
cannot read or have extreme difficulty
use written material for limited purposes;
need simple language, clearly laid-out
everyday skills for day-to-day tasks, but
cannot cope with unfamiliar or complex information
comfortable and proficient
The international surveys conducted in 2003 explored deeper numeracy and problem-solving skills. Problem-solving skills tend to be slightly lower than prose and document literacy levels. Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey
Literacy and the Brain
-Learning to read reprograms the mind
-Reading is new software program for thinking habits and solving problems:
• categories, chapters, indexes, tables, even chronology
-Reading structures are imposed over:
• visual language, oral language, sign language, with new rules, new culture
“Words do make a lasting impression, depending on the alphabet in which we read and write them.
Indeed, in Chinese text, reading engages different parts of the brain than English text. At the University of Hong Kong, linguist Li-Hai Tan and his colleagues reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the reading problems of dyslexia also affect the brain differently depending upon the writing system.
In Nature Neuroscience, Georgetown University dyslexia expert Guinevere Eden and her colleagues tracked how literacy reorganizes the brain by studying neural changes in people between the ages of 6 and 22 years old as they learned to read and write English.”
The Wall Street Journal Online, Tech May 2, 2008
Read more at How the Brain Learns to Read Can Depend on the Language
• They use narrative form to help remember things –stories are told to retrieve information from memory.
• A reader’s way of thinking about and organizing information changes.
• The problem-solving method of a reader is different from that of a non-reader.
The survey measures a person’s skill at unraveling and solving problems when they did not know a routine procedure. This skill involves:
• understanding of the problem or situation
• its step-by-step transformation
• based on planning and reasoning
Problem-solving skill is usually lower; it may be different system entirely if a person is not text-oriented.
In the health care field, legal mental capacity has been defined this way:
To be “mentally capable” means that a person must have the ability to understand information relevant to making a decision and the ability to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of decision.
Now that we know that learning to read reprograms the brain and that different languages impose different habits of thought, this may be significant.
More information about literacy issues:
National Adult Literacy Database http://www.nald.ca/index.htm
Who has literacy challenges?
Low literacy is more common in some specific groups than in Canadian society as a whole. These groups include
• Aboriginal Canadians
• people entering the corrections system
• high school dropouts and graduates
A higher than average percentage of school dropouts are:
-born in Atlantic Canada
-born in Quebec (particularly female dropouts)
-spoke French in childhood
-have a disability
-have experienced learning difficulties in childhood
Learning disabilities include differences in a person’s perceptual or cognitive systems. People with low English literacy may have different thinking and problem-solving patterns especially if their first language was not English and they are not literate in that first language.
Other causes and sources
Many children could not learn due to
• Poverty, harassment, abuse, racial discrimination,
• Stress or anxiety such as being child of alcoholic
Many high school graduates and seniors have lost their reading skills through lack of practice of them. They seek information and entertainment from other media.
Short-term, temporary, and situational causes
Any of these causes can interfere with a person’s capacity to focus, concentrate, process information, and think clearly.
• personal or social stress or anxiety
• harassment or abuse, incl. phys. and sexual abuse
• Physical health problems, including head injury or trauma
• mental health problems
Tomorrow, some solutions for communicators…