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Defining literacy and its consequences in the developing world

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A variety of important life consequences for literacy are widely assumed in the contemporary discourse on adult literacy with little, if any empirical research to support them. As a result, they have been variously labelled as 'myths' (Coombs 1985), 'doubtful promises' (Hinzen 1983), proclamations of 'faith' (Winchester 1990) and 'claims in search of reality' (Wagner 1992). Part of the problem here is that the effects of literacy are often identified without first defining what literacy is. Naturally, if literacy is ambiguously or broadly defined, virtually any consequence can be attributed to it. Thus, the first task of any researcher, educator or policymaker involved with issues of adult literacy is to make his or her definitions of literacy and the scope of each definition's applicationsexplicit. Within the field of adult literacy education, Lytle and Wolfe (1989) provide a useful conceptual categorization for literacy in terms of four metaphors: literacy as skills, tasks, practices and critical reflection. This paper extends Lytle and Wolfe's framework to identify what consequences are attributed to literacy within each of the four metaphors, focusing on adults in the developing world.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-01-01

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