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SUSS It Out!

On Literacy: A Resource List

by Marion Ngo on 2020-09-15T16:04:31+08:00 | Comments

In light of International Literacy Day on 8 September, we are delving into the topic of literacy. Literacy is in itself a broad topic: while we will not be covering every aspect, we hope you will find this interesting, informative, and even useful for future references.

UNESCO International Literacy Day

The idea of an International Literacy Day was first developed at the World Conference of Ministers on the Eradication of Illiteracy in Tehran, Iran, in 1965.  At the UNESCO’s 14th General Conference in 1966, it was declared that the International Literacy Day will be commemorated on 8 September every year. For 2020, their theme is “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”.

Explaining Literacy

We might think of “literacy” as the ability to read, write, and count (numeracy). UNESCO has expanded the definition to include communication skills: it is “now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world”.

Very broadly, there is:

  1. functional literacy: being able to read, write, and do math so as to contribute towards your community and economy.
  2. non-textual literacies:  information literacy, digital literacy, visual literacy, and even cultural literacy (Fransman, 2005, p. 9)
  3. new media literacy: which includes “having a critical approach to media” (Koltay, 2011  p.3) and being able to assess (mis)information including the ability to discern between ‘real’ or ‘fake’ news.

Literacy Matters

Literacy is a human right (Moretti and Frandell, 2013), and part of everyone’s universal rights to education. UNESCO claims that literacy is freedom: being able to read and write allows you to better yourself and your community. More importantly, it allows you to communicate meaningfully with the world. As Wittgenstein writes, “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”:

Rather,  speaking,  reading  and  writing  are  interconnected  parts  of  an  active  learning  process  and  of  social  transformation.  The  words  that  people  use  in  order  to  give  meaning  to  their lives are fashioned, created and conditioned by the world in which they inhabit.” (Fransman, 2005, p. 17)

Going to school at a young age for pre-school/pre-kindergarten, although not technically a universal concept, can significantly enhance a child’s life, and narrow the widening income achievement gap – especially for children coming from low-income families.

Generally, students and communities do better when they take on more ownership of their own learning, and when a country decides on its own literacy plans, and develops their own curriculum and disciplinary discourse (Wingate, 2012; Wickens & Sandlin, 2016).

Debating Literacy

While some see literacy as a means  for development, other have highlighted its darker side.

Literacy has been perceived by postmodernists as “an instrument of power and oppression, legitimating dominant discourses and endangering languages, cultures and local knowledge” (Fransman, 2005, p. 3). It also runs the risk of “confin[ing] the motivation for learning into examinations, certificates and jobs”, and “privileg[ing] literacy over other forms of human expression and creation” (Fransman, 2005, p.20).

Literacy programmes have also been accused of being neocolonial, as these literacy programmes are ultimately determined by funding, and “faithfully reflect interests of the major industrialized countries” (Wickens & Sandlin 2016, p.287).

Such debates are important to ensure that literacy is used for the advancement of communities, and not to further widen social divides.

Literacy and You  

Here are some interesting resources you may want to check out on information literacy. You may even be inspired to start your own research into this area! Remember, the library is always here for your informational and research needs, so feel free to contact us at

SUSS Library Resources

Other Resources


Other Resources:


Fransman, J. (2005). Understanding literacy: a concept paper.

Koltay, T. (2011). The media and the literacies: Media literacy, information literacy, digital literacy. Media, Culture & Society, 33(2), 211–221.

Moretti, G. A. S., & Tobias, F. (2013). Literacy from a Right to Education Perspective.

Reardon, S. F. (2013). The Widening Income Achievement Gap. Educational Leadership, 70(8), 10-16.

UNESCO. (2017, April 25). Five decades of literacy work. UNESCO.

UNESCO. (n.d.). Global education monitoring report, 2020: Inclusion and education: All means all—UNESCO Digital Library. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from

United Nations. (n.d.). International Literacy Day. United Nations; United Nations. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from

Wickens, C. M., & Sandlin, J. A. (2007). Literacy for What? Literacy for Whom? The Politics of Literacy Education and Neocolonialism in UNESCO- and World Bank–Sponsored Literacy Programs. Adult Education Quarterly, 57(4), 275–292.

Wingate, U. (2012). Using Academic Literacies and genre-based models for academic writing instruction: A `literacy’ journey | Elsevier Enhanced Reader.

Wong, A. (2014, November 18). The Case Against Universal Preschool. The Atlantic.

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