Literacy as a Life Skill

At its most basic, literacy means the ability to read and write. Preparing teachers to help students develop this fundamental life skill is the primary focus of specialized graduate degree programs like the Master of Education (M.Ed.) – Literacy offered 100% online by Eastern Washington University (EWU). People view literacy as something you learn in school to prime yourself for life after formal schooling. Basic literacy underpins other types of literacy such as financial literacy, health literacy and digital literacy.

Literacy builds life skills that help people thrive throughout their lives. The life skills and types of literacy that someone needs depend on the circumstances, career, beliefs, location and many other factors.

Here are several types of literacy and their importance as life skills.

Financial Literacy

Basic financial literacy enables people to manage their money and avoid spending more than they have. Unfortunately, the Council for Economic Education’s 2022 Survey of the States found that only 23 U.S. states require high school students to complete a personal finance class before graduation.

Students attend college to gain knowledge that prepares them for jobs and to increase their chances of earning more. However, if they lack financial literacy, they will not know how to invest, save and grow their money.

Health Literacy

With the release of the U.S. government’s Healthy People 2030 initiative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its definition of health literacy to involve two main components: personal health literacy and organizational health literacy.

According to CDC, “Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” CDC defines organizational health literacy as “the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

Achieving basic literacy does not necessarily mean a person knows how to manage their own health. Reading and writing provide a steppingstone toward understanding health information and using health services. Parents make sure their children visit doctors as scheduled and as needed. They also fill out the paperwork and provide health insurance information.

Many students graduate from college and go off to work without ever learning about health insurance and how to complete the related paperwork. In addition to educating themselves about health insurance, they need to learn to keep track of their health history and be advocates for their own healthcare. For instance, information from one doctor can contain valuable information for another doctor. Patients with health literacy skills know to share information with other medical personnel as it can affect their treatment.

Digital Literacy

It is exceedingly rare for a student in the U.S. to get through a school day without touching technology. Educational technology integration has been evolving for decades, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, with teachers incorporating laptops, tablets and other digital devices into learning. Students use digital devices to take tests, do assignments and learn new information.

But the onset of the pandemic spurred the unprecedented integration of full-fledged virtual classroom technologies and learning management systems (LMS) to support interactive online learning for students of all ages. These cloud-based learning systems allowed for some degree of educational continuity when in-person learning was not safe or feasible. Teachers had to rapidly adapt and learn effective methods for teaching in the virtual classroom environment.

This world-wide educational experience highlighted the importance of developing advanced digital literacy skills for students and teachers alike. Logically, advanced literacy education degree programs like EWU’s are now including coursework examining technology-based materials and platforms alongside traditional teacher preparation in literacy instruction.

Of course, the importance of digital literacy reaches far beyond the classroom. Many basic tasks require digital devices. Finding a job involves creating a resume. In most cases, you create one with a word processor or by filling out an online application with your job history. Banking, paying bills, signing up for services and buying needed products all entail the use of digital devices.

Digital literacy also means knowing how to protect your computer, digital devices and personal data from viruses, data privacy violation or other intrusions. Knowing how to protect your digital footprint keeps you from falling for online scams, having your identity stolen or being cyberbullied. This also involves learning how to interact with and process information online in discerning ways. Effective digital literacy education helps students develop the ability to sift through online content and find reputable sources with verifiable information.

Literacy is more than a factor in a student’s academic success. It is a fundamental component of understanding and being a part of society and the discourse that shapes one’s immediate social community as well as the broader regional, national and global environment.

Teachers and educators can help their students improve their literacy skills by earning a specialized degree in this area, such as the online M.Ed. – Literacy from EWU.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Education Literacy.

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