Mkandawile Benson (2010) How Literacy can enhance socio-economic Development in a Community. Article at the University of Zambia in Lusaka.
This paper explains the belief that literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community. It will start by defining key terms in the question and then proceed to the main body discussing the belief as asserted in the question and then end with a conclusion.
UNESCO (2000:1) defines literacy as “the ability to read and write”. Looking at the etymology of literacy (litteratus – one who knows letters) in Latin, this definition was okay as it referred to a person who can write and identify written symbols into meaningful referential objects in real life situations. However, defining literacy as the ability to read and write in this contemporary world is quiet narrow because currently, literacy is a complex terminology with a wide range of application. It cannot be reduced to mare reading and writing skills. Literacy is manifested by individuals in different disciplines such as in computer literacy, critical literacy, cultural literacy, political literacy and others. This view is supported by Mkandaŵile (2010:3) “literacy is the ability to manifest a skill in a particular field in order to adapt to the environment”. This includes a wide range of skills including the conventional literacy of reading and writing. In a normal society, all human beings are literate and illiterate at the same time. The question is being literate in what and for what? Literate professor in linguistics may be illiterate in computer science, web designing, cultural awareness, computer programming, wizards, political, economic know how, sculpture, craft, social and artifacts. This suggest that everyone is literate and illiterate in some fields and therefore, looking for a precise definition of literacy in present day’s world may be an impossible task if so, there is need to specify which literacy is being considered. Socio-economic development on the other hand refer to a situation where there is progress or change in a community from one level to a better level in terms of social and economic improvement normally in the form of life expectancy, literacy levels, levels of employment, personal dignity, freedom of association, personal safety and freedom from fear of physical harm, and the extent of participation in civil society. Socio-economic development may also include new technologies, changes in laws, changes in the physical environment and ecological changes, ( Becker & Murphy, 2001).
While it’s true that literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community, it is erroneous to attribute economic prosperity of a community to literacy alone because there are many factors that determine socio-economic development in a particular community. What one can point out without much controversy is that in all these factors, there is an aspect of literacy involved. For example, these factors are in form of resources the community has and generally these are natural resources, financial resources and Human resources. Natural resources comprise of fertile land, ideal topography, abundant forests, sufficient mineral resources and excess water supply. Financial resources include the capital needed for the economic activities. Human resources where literacy is attributed to include the population, its growth rate, skills, standard of living and working capacity of the labour force. Modern economists says a country leading in natural resources has more opportunities to develop than that of a country lacking in such resources. But only abundant availability of natural resources does not make sure the economic development of a country, these resources need to be utilized at their optimum. And this is only possible when efficient manpower utilizes these resources. Therefore, socio-economic development only occurs when Natural and Financial resources are maintained properly by efficient Human resources which are literate in the manner of handling and managing these resources.
Literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community in the sense that it enlightens people and help them see or read things in a particular direction and apply them widely. It encourages divergent and rational thinking thereby raising some kind of critical consciousness in the lives of individuals. Literate citizens can be applied to a wide range of phenomena in the society anchored on development. It can go from the mechanical uttering of news readers to the innumerable levels of interpreting any text or symbols with a view of understanding meanings.
Conventional literacy of reading and writing can also enhance socio-economic development in a community. Writing can be very helpful in implementing the planned ideas by suggesting best ways of sticking to the plan. Literacy (writing) help by fixing the ideas in the mind on paper objectively and consciously. Reading on the other hand is very important. It may include reading of letters, symbols, reading of facial expression, barometers, tea-leaves, interpretations of a poem, novel, film and the environment. This suggests that a person who can read his or her environment but cannot read a word should not be deemed ignorant and illiterate. An illiterate person should be he /she who, even with more than enough schooling cannot read his/her environment, identify the wealth it has and protect that wealth, multiply it and enhance his/her own quality of life. Therefore, reading of mare symbols or letters in a book is not good enough for one to be called literate. “You do not need to have books in order to have literature and to have literacy. The term literacy includes survival knowledge. Stories, proverbs, sayings of the wise, riddles, beliefs, poems, fairy tails, myths, taboos, legends were books and not only books but theatre. My family, my home, and nature around my home were my libraries. My literary events took place in our cowshed as we were milking cows” (Vuolab, 2000:15). In this context one would fairly indicate that literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community.
Critical and functional literacy can help communities in a variety of ways in order to enhance socio-economic development. Zambia is one country with abundant natural resources but fail to materialize them due to lack of literacy skills. Literacy can make Zambians realize that they are rich by conscientising them to realize that the development of Zambia, cannot be facilitated by some external forces like America, Britain or sourth Africa and Malawi but the Zambians themselves. This can be done by allowing local minerals and natural resources to be produced or finished locally. For instance, making copper bullets from copper, guns, vehicles, computers and others into finished products. This can lead to boosting up the socio-economy in Zambia. Most African countries have sufficient mineral resources but due to lack of skilled manpower or low literacy levels in different fields, it cannot utilize all those resources, and as a result of such, it is difficult to boost the socio-economic development.
Literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community by enhancing the skills of workforce, which result as a positive influence on work behavior. Gary and Murphy, (2001) says that by enhancing skills in individuals, one can earn more which brings economic prosperity at both Micro (individual) level and Macro level by rising in gross domestic product (GDP) making the workforce more efficient. Literacy is a phenomenon by which one can enhance his communication, professional and social skills, (Arnove and Graff, 1992). The impact of literacy on economic development is positive and can be easily determined by comparing the standard of living, per capita income, GDP, industrialization and development of infrastructure within a country. Literacy enhances the working capabilities of people by providing them with developmental skill.
Literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community by developing a sense of responsibility and imparting technical skills among the common man, by which one can become a good citizen. Increasing rate of literacy brings about a state of competition among different firms, industries and sectors of production, which helps an economy to grow on strong bases of competition, Gary and Murphy, (2001). Increasing rate of literacy also helps to control and maintain population growth. Hence qualitative population is found with increased standard of living and more access over basic needs. Increased technical education helps to develop new and sophisticated methods of production and distribution, which can reduce the cost of production and increase the rate of return. Educated and skilled workers are the assets of a country, which may have demand not only within the country but are highly demanded in other countries also.
Literacy can help in planning and this is an important aspect of the society. Proper and planned allocation of resources brings increased and qualitative production. Increased production leads to more employment opportunities. Thus the level of unemployment reduces from the country. If literate people come to run the government along with the economy, the country will have a great benefit in such a way these people will allocate the resources at their best and hence the chances of misallocation and misutilization of resources will diminish or reduce by a wider margin qualifying literacy as an aspect which can enhance socio-economic development in a community.
Literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community by controlling inflation and deflation. Inflation is one of the major problems of today’s economics. According to the research reduction in inflation is directly related to the reduction in unemployment level. As literacy and skill development helps to reduce the unemployment it leads towards the control over inflation. And hence economy rides on the strong horse of development and social skills. Along with the development of professional and communication skills, literacy and education develop social skills by which an individual learns to move in the society as they realizes the importance of society, as no one can live in isolation.
Literacy can help individuals to think independently than being object or being regulated by others. This is done by affirming individuals that they can do it on their own without massive help from others. Citizens and workers can also be urged by literacy to do what others can thereby enhancing the skills among the workers and the organization can get maximum productivity resulting in enhanced socio-economic development in a community.
Concisely literacy has great importance in the economic development of a country. Literacy brings all the positive changes in variable factors of production as well as in infrastructure development; it also minimizes or may wipe out negativities. No one can deny the importance of literacy as it is a pillar on which the major part of an economy stands, if the pillar is strong enough to hold the economy, the anomalies can be reduced very easily and the economy will multiply but if the pillar of literacy is weak and fragile the anomalies may push the economy downward and the economy may fall down.
An Educated country is a developed country. Literacy level plays a major role in the economic development of a nation. If people are literate, then there will be minimum violence in the country. Literacy leads to good employment opportunities, (Gary and Murphy, 2001). If literacy level is high in a nation, then there will be more number of entrepreneurs and the flow of money will be huge. If new enterprises come up, the economy of the country grows with the amount of tax collected. New enterprises lead to more employment generation and in turn reduce the unemployment rate. A Nation with a low unemployment rate will develop very rapidly.
Literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community in the sense that literacy leads to rise of entrepreneurs and new enterprises which in turn provide employment and there will be huge demand for employment. When there is demand for employment, there will be a huge rise in the number of schools and colleges, (Qurratulain, 2006). When there is more number of schools, public can get easy access to schools and colleges at affordable costs. In this manner all will get education and the literacy level will go up. The demand in the industry is directly relational to the demand in the education sector and in turn directly related to literacy level and vice versa.
Literacy has to do with correct interpretation of symbols and applying them for communication and survival in the real life situation. A symbol may be picture or a letter in form of words or it can be both to have more impact whereby to a picture, a text is included to clarify the symbol. In a classroom setting, the learner may incidentally learn some of the words that are paired with the symbol. However, the words are there mainly as a support for the communication partner. This association entails that literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community as individuals will be enlightened with conventional literacy skills thereby uplifting their lives just from a simple symbol of a picture and a word. Take for instance, consider the pictures below accompanied with some words to demonstrate the role symbols play in constructing meaning in the society.
This indicates that literacy can enhance socio-economic development in the community
by uplifting people’s status on the manner and how they interpreted symbols in relation
to the community as in the diagrammed below.
In literacy and economic development, proper interpretation of symbols has a strong
bearing to the community. A symbol is often used in a communication board to express
a complete thought or a partial phrase and a society without proper communication, symbols or
language cannot face development.
It can be concluded that the paper has shown that literacy can enhance socio-economic development in a community by enlightening individuals to act and realize what is right and how to handle their resources effectively as explained in the paper. Literacy help individuals gain some critical consciousness and thereby act in a manner that would help them protect and defend their resources, use them appropriately and defensively.
Arnove, R.F. and Graff, H., J. (1992). “National literacy campaigns in historical and comparative perspective: legacies, lessons, and issues.” In: R.F
Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy, 2001, Social Economics: Market Behavior in a Social Environment. Description and table of contents. Harvard University Press.
Mkandawire, B. (2010, July). Understanding Literacy from the Zambian Perspective. Paper presented at the Conference organized by the university of Zambia – Ten Years of Primary Reading Programme.
Qurratulain Akhtar (2006) Literacy and economic development. August 26, 2006.
Vuolab, K. (2000). Such a Treasure of Knowledge for Human Survival. In: Phillipson, Robert (2000). Rights To Languages . Equity, Power, and Education. London: Lawrence Erilbaum Associates, Publishers.