What freedoms does literacy offer in a globalized society?

Posted: September 6th, 2013

What freedoms does literacy offer in a globalized society?







What freedoms does literacy offer in a globalized society?

            Within globalized societies, the main agenda is the expansion of the actual liberties that people enjoy. Literacy is one of the instruments that most people use in the expression of freedom. The use of written communication in today’s world follows economic and socio-political systems as well as operations at domestic, national and global heights. Literacy provides institutions and other individuals with opportunities for learning new elements. The wide variety of literacy methods and practices used by people and communities in different contexts display the randomness through which literacy is acquired or used.

Firstly, the more scholars study the process through which literacy is set in, the better the chances of the global community to view literacy as an actual instrument of freedom. Literacy bears many qualities of freedom as it is embedded in social relationships and change. Contributions on literacy by Amartya Sen analyze the value of literacy in pursuing opportunities as a means of maximizing freedoms. According to Sen, developed societies may have the freedom to decide and follow the lifestyle that people deem as valuable (Raley & Preyer 2012, p. 214). In such situations, the individual’s actions are shaped by the environment and they determine the social context (Robinson-Pant 2003, p. 355).

Secondly, negative aspects of denial of freedom such as child mortality, insecurity and unemployment are created and shaped by the society. Sen states that different communities possess different freedoms and consequently, different limits for organizing social transformation (Raley & Preyer 2012, p. 217). Freedom forms the foundation for development within a society. According to Sen, a social structure such as the state are qualified subjects for studying freedom and links it to support for expanding people’s freedoms. The need for this support cannot be any clearer than in literacy. Lack of literacy illustrates a lack of freedom or as Sen puts it “unfreedom” (Raley & Preyer 2012, p. 232).

In addition, the fast pace of globalization in an already largely literate society exists amid 700 million individuals who lack the information to improve their lives, and play an increased role in politics and economic activities. Literacy carries certain advantages from political to economic. This is because acquisition of literacy improves an individual’s confidence and sense of worth. Such knowledge provides a way to increased civic participation with better knowledge on family planning and education matters. Data on literacy is however difficult to obtain as very little research has been done on the subject (Raley & Preyer 2012, p. 223).

Based on the latest researches, most reports place the number of illiterate adults at 774 million. That represents about 18% of the total world adult population. The majority of adults with little or no literacy are situated in sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia and the Pacific. In terms of gender, women represent about 64% of the total illiterate population (Horsman 2005, p. 167). Most of this percentage of the illiterate population resides in fifteen countries. South Asia has the lowest literacy levels mainly because of Bangladesh and Pakistan that have 47% and 50% respectively. Lower literacy levels are synonymous with low poverty levels. An example is in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and India where over 80% of the population lives below $2 a day. In these societies, the literacy levels are below 63% and the number of illiterate individuals stands at about 4 million people (Horsman 2005, p. 168).

Literacy levels also tend to be lower in rural areas, among indigenous people and minorities. EFA goals currently set the bar for countries to achieve a 50% increase in adult literacy levels before 2015 particularly for women. These standards were unachievable, as some countries have already achieved over 60% literacy levels (Agnaou 2004, p. 123). Contemporary assessments of literacy do not encapsulate the political and academic debates that have occurred in the recent past. The definition of literacy has however grown to include human resource skills and socio-cultural as well as political change. From the 1960s, functional literacy developed alongside social change as a tool of development and consequently, development (Rajak 2007, p. 123).

In addition, certain freedoms are realized from literacy in a direct manner while others are benefits accrued because of literacy within the society. Basic political rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of action and freedom of life are given by the mere acknowledgement of literacy. The slave owners in South America convinced legislators to prohibit slaves from reading. Islam societies similarly treat their women as virtual slaves as they are banned from attending school to keep them ignorant and illiterate. These two instances of denying certain sections of the society the privilege of a proper education signify the power of literacy. For an individual to be able to enjoy their individual freedoms they have to be able to read (Hung, Yoong, & Brown 2012, p. 27).

Intellectual empowerment is the starting point for individual freedom. Scholars have proved there is a direct relation between literacy, prosperity and improved living standards. These capabilities accrued from literacy such as increased incomes, civil liberties and health are assumed the means through which an individual can achieve certain freedoms. This argument is slightly different from the conventional one that claims that education and health are the means to achieving the final product that is income. According to Sen, income is just but one aspect that combines with other aspects to provide an individual and society with greater freedom (Raley & Preyer 2012, p. 229). The use of literacy however depends on the society and the context in which it used (Jucevičienė, Merkys & Reinert 2002, p. 134).

Particular countries such as China, South Korea and Taiwan have made great economic and political achievements that have translated into increased freedoms for their citizens. The rationale given behind their rapid economic development might be given as strategic exploitation of the global economy. However, basic education has played a major role in these developments. The case of China was particularly helped by its increased investment in the education sector. Under Mao Tse-tung, the basic education policies that were adopted in China made the country have an upper hand in benefiting from the global economy. Education, in this case, expanded the capabilities of the Chinese people that results in various types of rewards (Eisenberg, Lowe & Spitzer 2004, p. 232).

When people are illiterate, they are less likely to comprehend their legal rights and to protect them when required. This serves as a major setback in a scenario where on e party violates the rights of others. This problem mainly affects the poor populations as their rights are often violated due to a high level of illiteracy. As was mentioned earlier, women are more affected by illiteracy and as a result, they enjoy fewer freedoms. Women nit being able to read or write exposes them to violation in property rights and expression of other freedoms as they are unfairly treated. Implementing a strong sense of law within the society will not be beneficial, as people cannot take advantage of the laws if they cannot read them (Horsman 2005, p. 97).

Illiteracy can lead to denial of political freedoms within a society. The reverse is true in more developed communities such as those in North America and parts of Europe. Literacy provides the members of a society with the opportunity to exercise their political rights such as voting in area representatives or providing opinion on policies. Literacy gives an individual the ability to decipher political jargon and at the same time, deliver politically relevant declarations. This is very important in the expression of demands to the state. Political freedoms are by far the most abused in countries having the highest rates of illiteracy. In such countries, the inequality in distribution of resources by the government leads to poverty in certain areas followed by illiteracy that completes the circle of muffled freedoms (Brayman Hackel & Kelly 2008, p. 175).

Studies done by Sen elaborate on different aspects of human security as part of the freedoms enjoyed in globalized societies. According to Sen, human security is achieved when the voice of the citizen is strengthened through increased literacy (Raley & Preyer 2012, p. 237). An instance of food insecurity as suppression of the right to food and a denial of the freedom of choice on what to consume as an individual and a society will suffice to elaborate the relationship between literacy, political expression and realization of freedoms. Within established democracies, cases of food shortages are not recorded as people in these states are give political voice. This is because criticism of the failed government channeled by the free press will force the government to act swiftly to mitigate the effects of food shortage (Agnaou 2004, p. 121).

Finally, the development of women and girls in most underdeveloped countries has been pegged on their ability to maintain autonomous incomes, possess ownership rights, literate and education. Literacy is solely responsible for the empowerment of women across the world. Although all these factors affecting women may seem diverse and unrelated, they cumulatively combine to suppress women’s freedoms. Social problems such as overpopulation have been found to reduce or even disappear because of an increase in literacy and education among women.

In conclusion, literacy has had an important role in shaping some of the major events in the world that have later benefited the societies that embraced it. Literacy has played a major role in colonialism as it was considered the channel through which civilization could be spread within Asia and Africa. Among Christians and British soldiers in Uganda for example, the ability to read was assumed to bring about other skills such as reflection and increased reasoning (Daniell & Mortensen 2007, p. 187). After independence, literacy also played a big role in building the new nations. Literacy was seen as an underlying factor to modernization that would ensure increased freedoms for the citizens. Literacy can also be considered as a form of power. To the illiterate person living in abject poverty, gaining literacy and education presents them with limitless power to transform their immediate surroundings.


Agnaou, F 2004, Gender, literacy, and empowerment in Morocco, Routledge, New York.

Brayman Hackel, H & Kelly, CE 2008, Reading women: Literacy, authorship, and culture in the Atlantic world, 1500-1800, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Daniell, B & Mortensen, P 2007, Women and literacy: Local and global inquiries for a new century, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New York.

Eisenberg, MB, Lowe, CA & Spitzer, KL 2004, Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the. Information Age, Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Horsman, J 2005, Too scared to learn women, violence, and education, McGilligan Books/Mahwah, Toronto.

Hung, AJ, Yoong, J & Brown, E 2012, “Empowering. Women Through Financial Awareness and Education”, OECD Working Papers on Finance, Insurance and Private Pensions, no. 14, OECD Publishing, pp. 1-42.

Jucevičienė, P, Merkys, G, Reinert, GB 2002, Towards the Learning Society: Educational Issues. Lang, Frankfurt.

Rajak, MP 2007, Literacy for equality and empowerment of women, Man and Life, vol. 33, no, 4, pp. 121-124.

Raley, Y & Preyer, G, 2010, Philosophy of education in the era of globalization, Routledge, New York.

Robinson-Pant, A 2000, ‘Women and literacy: a Nepal Perspective’, International Journal of Educational Development, Vol. 20, pp 349-364.


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