Introduction‎ > ‎

What is Literacy?

Literacy is the ability to read, write and communicate with each other within our society.

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". "The Plurality of Literacy and its implications for Policies and Programs". UNESCO Education Sector Position Paper: 13. 2004.

The definition of literacy will always change and evolve to reflect the changing needs of our society. Literacy will always be viewed as being able to read and write, but also includes the need to understand and find meaning from social, critical, mathematical and technological literacies. Using the language in these literacies skilfully and purposefully allows for communication between people and a greater understanding and meaning within the contexts that it is being used (Winch et al., 2011).

We use literacy in many different ways in our society through social, cultural and communication technology. Gaining an understanding of how we use literacy in our everyday lives starts from an early age. Infants use body language and expressions to communicate their needs and wants to their parents and carers, young children start to recognise pictures and symbols and use basic language to express their understanding about the world around them. Older children gain knowledge and meaning from reading, writing and viewing text that is available to them in their community and wider society.

The Australian Curriculum defines and outlines the aims of literacy in the schooling system as:

The Literacy strand takes account of approaches to literacy learning that are based on the development of skills, social and psychological growth, and critical and cultural analysis. These approaches hold that the technical, intellectual and cultural resources related to competence in literacy have developed to serve the big and small practical, everyday communication purposes associated with living and participating in societies such as contemporary Australia. These technical, intellectual and cultural resources include:

  • fluency in the sound–letter correspondences of English
  • an expanding reading, writing and speaking vocabulary and a grasp of grammatical and textual patterns sufficient to understand and learn from texts encountered in and out of school, and to create effective and innovative texts
  • fluency and innovation in reading, viewing and creating texts in different settings
  • the skill and disposition needed to analyse and understand the philosophical, moral, political and aesthetic bases on which many texts are built
  • An interest in expanding the range of materials listened to, viewed and read, and in experimenting with innovative ways of expressing increasingly subtle and complex ideas through texts.

As I will become an Early Childhood educator after my studies the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) definition of literacy for younger children uses a broad definition of literacy that includes children learning to express themselves and communicate through a range of forms and symbols:


Literacy is the capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all its forms. Literacy incorporates a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, storytelling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing. (DEEWR, 2009, p. 38)