Northwest Territories Literacy Council

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Adult Literacy and Essential Skills

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Literacy Definitions

There are many definitions for literacy. Which one do you like most?

  • Literacy is the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community. It is not about whether or not one can read but how well one reads. (Literacy BC)
  • Literacy is a complex set of abilities needed to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture – alphabets, numbers, visual icons - for personal and community development. The nature of these abilities, and the demand for them, vary from one context to another. In a technological society, literacy extends beyond the functional skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to include multiple literacies such as visual, media and information literacy. These new literacies focus on an individual’s capacity to use and make critical judgments about the information they encounter on a daily basis. However a culture defines it, literacy touches every aspect of individual and community life. It is an essential foundation for learning through life, and must be valued as a human right. (The Centre for Literacy)
  • Literacy is a skill that enables people to interpret and effectively respond to the world around them. Based upon language development from birth, it includes the ability to learn, communicate, read and write, pass on knowledge and participate actively in society. (The Nunavut Literacy Council)
  • “In our traditional culture, we “read” nature (the environment). We must read and interpret the information we find there, so that we can survive. We use our eyes and brains just like you. We also use our other senses – smell, hearing, taste and touch – to read the coming weather, the presence of danger, and the health of the land, waters and air.” (Denys Auger, Elder - Bigstone Cree Education Authority)
  • Literacy is the lifelong development of a broad range of skills with one or more of the NWT official languages for the purpose of expanding an individual’s potential for optimal health, personal success and positive participation in community wellness and development. (Literacy Strategy for Government of the NWT)
  • Literacy, numeracy and problem solving are essential to function in today’s world. For individuals, they are the key to realizing their full economic and social potential and the foundation upon which they acquire additional knowledge and skills throughout adulthood. They are strongly associated with individual outcomes and enable people to participate in their communities, make wise consumer decisions, and construct social networks. (International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey)

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