Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read and write. It is a concept claimed and defined by a range of different theoretical fields. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the "ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society."
Literacy in the 21st Century
One needs simply to reflect on the nature of the communication being practiced in reading this article to understand the second form of evolution in our understanding of Literacy. We no longer rely on an individual or a small group of individuals to convey information. Traditional news outlets are battling for popularity with blogs, forums, twitter, and instant messaging. During the Iranian Revolution during June, 2009, such news sources were so valuable that the US State Department officials asked Twitter to postpone site maintenance which would stop the flow in information through Tweets. This idea has forever changed the landscape of information access, and is integral in an understanding of Literacy as a practice, in the 21st Century. It is no longer sufficient to consider whether a student can 'read' (decoding text, really) and 'write' (encoding text), and it is necessary to consider more meaningful aspects of literacy in education and in society as a whole, if we are to complete the transition we are in, from a society in which communication was never possible on the level of 'many to many', to one in which it is.
Traditionally considered the ability to use written language actively and passively, some definitions of literacy consider it the ability to "read, write, spell, listen, and speak." Since the 1980s, some have argued that literacy is ideological, which means that literacy always exists in a context, in tandem with the values associated with that context. Prior work viewed literacy as existing autonomously
It is argued that literacy includes the cultural, political, and historical contexts of the community in which communication takes place.
Taking account of the fact that a large part of the benefits of literacy obtain from having access to a literate person in the household, a recent literature in economics, starting with the work of Kaushik Basu and James Foster, distinguishes between a 'proximate illiterate' and an 'isolated illiterate'. The former refers to an illiterate person who lives in a household with other literates and the latter to an illiterate who lives in a household of all illiterates.
The history of education has a long past. The first seats of learning were in India, Mesopotamia and Egypt and, at later date in Greece. The Nalanda University (India) is one of the oldest universities in the world, where Chinese monk, Xuanzang (aka Hiuen Tsang), came to learn Budhist Philosophy and Mathematics in 625BC. Although the history of literacy goes back several thousand years to the invention of writing, what constitutes literacy has changed throughout history. At one time, a literate person was one who could sign his or her name. At other times, literacy was measured only by the ability to read and write Latin regardless of a person's ability to read or write his or her vernacular. Even earlier, literacy was a trade secret of professional scribes, and many historic monarchies maintained cadres of this profession, sometimes -- as was the case for Imperial Aramaic -- even importing them from lands where a completely alien language was spoken and written. Some of the pre-modern societies with generally high literacy rates included Ancient Greece and the Islamic Caliphate. In the latter case, the widespread adoption of paper and the emergence of the Maktab and Madrasah educational institutions played a fundamental role.