Literacy as a Life Skill

At its most basic, literacy means the ability to read and write. People view this 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 Annual Survey of the States has found that only one-third of states in the U.S. 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

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 Title V defines health literacy as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.”

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

Many kids 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 rare for a student in the U.S. to get through the school year without touching technology. Teachers incorporate laptops, tablets and other digital devices into learning. Students use digital devices to take tests, do assignments and learn new information.

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 and digital devices from viruses. Knowing how to protect your digital footprint keeps you from falling for online scams, having your identity stolen or being cyberbullied.

Literacy is more than a factor in a student’s academic success. “It’s also a key to citizenship and enfranchisement in society, to your ability to understand and take part in all the discourse that shapes your community and your country and your world,” writes Perri Klass, M.D. “It’s the product of a whole range of brain circuits from vocabulary and vision and visual processing to memory and meaning.”

Teachers and educators can help their students improve their literacy skills by earning a specialized degree in this area. Eastern Washington University offers a master’s degree in this area.

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


The New York Times: Literacy Builds Life Skills as Well as Language Skills

Council for Economic Education: Survey of the States

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What Is Health Literacy?

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