Article

Functional Literacy

John P. Comings

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online February 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0032
Functional Literacy

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Literacy comprises a set of skills (usually listed as phonics, decoding, fluency, vocabulary knowledge, and comprehension) and a set of practices (employing all of these skills to accomplish tasks with text). The term “functional literacy” came into common use in the 1960s, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began addressing the lack of literacy skills among a large percentage of the population of adults and out-of-school children in developing countries. At the time, literacy experts were concerned that the teaching of literacy in developing countries was focused solely on skills and needed a greater focus on practices. This concern led to UNESCO’s emphasis on literacy being taught as a functional skill, and literacy instruction consistent with this approach was referred to as functional literacy. The term became associated with a definition of literacy as a functional skill. The field of public health is interested in functional literacy for two reasons. First, public health professionals are increasingly aware that low functional literacy is a barrier to health communications; and second, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute for Child Health and Development now urges pediatricians to pay attention to the literacy development of their patients. This article identifies sources that help public health professionals understand functional literacy and approaches to assessing it from the point of view of literacy scholars, and this provides a foundation for understanding the use of this term in public health. It is important for public health professionals to understand how literacy is defined and measured, in particular because of a growing interest in health literacy.

Article.  4406 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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