What Is Literacy and Why Is It Important?

  • Marilyn Kell
  • Peter Kell
Part of the Education in the Asia-Pacific Region: Issues, Concerns and Prospects book series (EDAP, volume 24)


This chapter explores a range of internationally recognised definitions and approaches to literacy and the various debates surrounding concerns about levels of literacy and proficiency. The discussion explores how literacy has shifted from traditional perspective of being an ability to read to more expansive views of competency and proficiency in a range of forms of communications. These shifts are described and include changes emerging from information technology, the globalisation of work and economic activity. In policy terms there is a growing linkage by governments between literacy and economic performance. This linkage is critically explored and the rating of nations through the performance in global international literacy testing is discussed.


Literacy Skill Economic Mobility Literacy Achievement Autonomous Model Poor Literacy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bartlet, L. (2008). Literacy’s verb: Exploring what literacy is and what literacy does. International Journal of Educational Development, 28, 737–753. doi: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2007.09.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bloome, D. (1997, May). This is literacy: Three challenges for teachers of reading and writing. The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 20(2), 107–115.Google Scholar
  3. Brock, P. (1998, February). Breaking some of the myths again. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 21(1), 8–26.Google Scholar
  4. Deafness Forum of Australia. (2011, January 18). Australia’s deaf community congratulates and thanks the Queensland Government and the ACMA for Auslan-interpreted flood updates. Accessed from
  5. di Gropello, E. (2006). Executive summary. In E. di Gropello (Ed.), Meeting the challenge of secondary education in Latin America and East Asia: Improving efficiency and resource mobilization (pp. i–lxi). Washington, DC: The World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Graff, H. J. (2001). Literacy’s myths and legacies: Lessons from the history of literacy. In P. Freebody, S. Muspratt, & B. Dwyer (Eds.), Difference, silence and textual practice: Studies in critical literacy (pp. 1–29). Cresskills, NJ: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  7. Index Mundi. (2013). World literacy. Retrieved from
  8. Lingard, B., & Grek, S. (2007). The OECD, indicators and PISA: An exploration of events and theoretical perspectives. ESRC/ESF Research Project on Fabricating Quality in Education (Working Paper 2). Retrieved from
  9. OECD. (2005). The definition and selection of key competencies: Executive summary. Retrieved from,3746,en_2649_39263238_2669073_1_1_1_1,00.html
  10. Ramesh, M. (2004). Social policy is east and southeast Asia: Education, health, housing and income maintenance. London: RoutledgeCurzon.Google Scholar
  11. Street, B. (Ed.). (1993). Cross-cultural approaches to literacy. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Stromquist, N. (2005). The political benefits of adult literacy. Background paper for EFA Global Monitoring Report 2006.Google Scholar
  13. The World Bank. (2011). Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15–24). From
  14. Tilak, J. B. G. (2002). Building human capital in East Asia: What others can learn. Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank.Google Scholar
  15. UNESCO. (2004). The plurality of literacy and its implications for policies and programmes. UNESCO Education Sector Position Paper. Paris: Author. Retrieved August 11, 2010, from
  16. UNESCO. (2006). Education for all: Literacy for life. EFA global monitoring report 2006. Paris: Author. Available from
  17. Wiseman, A. W. (2010). Introduction: The advantages and disadvantages of national education policymaking informed by international achievement studies. In A. W. Wiseman (Ed.), The impact of international achievement studies on national education policymaking [eBook], International perspectives on education and society (Vol. 13, pp. xi–xxii). Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marilyn Kell
    • 1
  • Peter Kell
    • 2
  1. 1.Charles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  2. 2.School of EducationCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia

Personalised recommendations