What Is Literacy?


It is a word we all know and frequently use.

But what do we actually mean when we talk about literacy?

Traditionally, the word “literacy” has meant to be able to read and write. Being able to read and write is an important skill that enables us to understand and engage with the world around us. Reading and writing skills also play the most important part in all aspects of learning at school, at work or in everyday life.  Most people learn to read and write at school. But some don’t.

The word “literacy” is also used to mean “being competent at or having reasonable knowledge of something.” In this sense, we talk about emotional literacy, computer literacy, family literacy, financial literacy and many others.

In many cases, the word “literacy” is given an even broader definition that includes soft skill such as confidence, motivation, self-efficacy, perseverance and so on.

There is also the expression “basic skills” which is often used interchangeably with literacy. It is an umbrella term that encompasses numeracy and digital skills as well as reading and writing.

Last but not least, we sometimes hear the expression “essential skills,” which gives the word “literacy” an even broader definition.

The term “essential skills” emerged from the extensive research conducted by the Government of Canada, along with other national and international literacy agencies. Essential skills are the skills needed for work, learning and life. They are the foundation for the learning of all other skills, and they help people to better prepare for work, get and keep a job and succeed and adapt to workplace changes. These essential skills include oral communication, reading, writing, document use, numeracy, computer use, thinking, working with others and continuous learning.

In conclusion, there is no universal definition of the word “literacy” and what it means to be literate. However, we know that literacy plays an important life in all aspects of life and learning and that in our fast-changing world, expectations regarding skills necessary to function in it are constantly increasing.


Written by Nada Jerkovic