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  • Writer's pictureRon Budd

Does Literacy Have the Same Meaning It Had in the Last Century? A New Definition of Literacy

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

The advent of new technologies has significantly reshaped our understanding and definition of literacy over the past century. Traditionally, literacy was a straightforward concept, encompassing the ability to read and write, which were deemed essential skills for effective functioning in an industrialized world. However, as we find ourselves in an era where information dissemination and utilization transcend the realms of reading and writing, it has become imperative to redefine literacy. Students today must acquire a broader and more relevant skill set to thrive in our evolving digital landscape, rendering the old definition inadequate.

So, what is this new definition of literacy? An even more pertinent question is, "What constitutes the most comprehensive and relevant definition of this new literacy?" Elizabeth Rich's article on EducationWeek titled "How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?" offers valuable insights to address this question. Rich introduces the term "21st-century skills," which she defines as competencies such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving—competencies that educators believe schools must impart to enable students to excel in today's world (2020).

I contend that Elizabeth's skill set provides the pivotal components for a much-needed and updated definition of literacy. This new literacy can be defined as the state at which an individual possesses the ability to:

  1. Collaborate Effectively: Engage in productive collaboration with others, recognizing the value of teamwork and diverse perspectives.

  2. Leverage Digital Technology: Competently utilize various forms of digital technology to achieve intended goals, demonstrating proficiency in navigating the digital landscape.

  3. Apply Critical Thinking: Employ critical thinking skills during problem-solving endeavors, making informed decisions and evaluating information critically.

Embracing this new definition of literacy is a vital step toward guiding educators in designing curricula that provide a meaningful education. Such an education equips students with the skills essential for thriving in the 21st century's dynamically evolving and digitally driven landscape.

Reference: Rich, Elizabeth. (2010, October 11). How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning? Education Week. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from

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