What does Illiteracy Mean?

The word illiteracy refers to a society’s lack of instruction regarding reading and writing. It is a word of Greek origin, which is formed from the prefix an, which indicates negation, and the alpha and beta particles, corresponding to the first and second letters of the Greek alphabet. The word ends with the suffix ism which means ‘system’ or ‘doctrine’.

In strict terms, those people who cannot read and write are illiterate. Seen as a whole, these people represent the trend called illiteracy: lack of knowledge of the letters (literacy).

Only in the 18th century illiteracy was identified as a social problem, because it limits economic and social development. As a result, basic education was established as a principle of the national State.

In today’s society, illiteracy represents a real problem in terms of social insertion, labor participation and productivity. According to UNESCO, this scourge affects more than 750 million people in the world.

The problem has become more complex, since it has been shown that simple knowledge of the letters is not enough. Therefore, today the expressions of functional illiteracy and digital illiteracy have been coined. Let’s see:

Functional illiteracy

When a person knows how to read and write, but nevertheless manifests problems of reading comprehension, issuance of written information or simple calculation, functional illiteracy is discussed. In this sense, the concept of functional illiteracy expresses the difficulty that the subject has to develop in the application of elementary reading and writing skills.

These types of people often have difficulty writing legible texts, understanding signage, producing, organizing and systematizing information (for example, developing a curriculum), filling out forms, reading a text fluently with meaning, etc. This means that individuals do not know how to operate the reading and writing tools they already have.

Digital illiteracy

In the current era, the use of digital media is increasingly necessary for work and personal communication. However, the use of these types of systems is mediated by access to technology and knowledge of applications.

At present, a large part of the world’s population does not have access to digital media or does not know how to use them, which has an impact on their social integration. Indeed, 47% of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet and, of course, to new technologies. This reality affects, of course, the marginalized or less economically favored sectors.

But the difficulty extends in another sector, although with many nuances. People who have only received an analog education and, for different reasons, have not joined the technological changes, tend to have more difficulty understanding and using digital communication. Although this is not a constant, it can affect the life of the person, when it depends on the enjoyment of some service or social benefit.