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Functional Literacy

platano's picture

            In the article What is Literacy?, James Paul Gee addresses the functionality of different discourses. A big part of literacy, as he describes it, is understanding the different uses of primary and secondary discourses. In order to master literacy you must know how to use primary and secondary discourses at appropriate times. In this case “function” indicates that these discourses have different uses or occur in different settings.

            When bringing a program that promotes literacy to Northern Ghana, it seemed like an important thing to establish is what kind of discourses occur in the region. In The Leap to Literacy and Life Change in Northern Ghana, there was an emphasis on community building as well as literacy. They stressed that they were teaching children functional literacy, and from the overview it seemed that this was done with a focus on their local life.

There was a stress on incorporating their mother tongue, and teaching the discourse that they were exposed to during a certain family trade. This is different than just teaching children to read and write. Instead they are working to incorporate their life into the classroom. Mixing both “acquisition” (learning through exposure) and “formal learning” seems to be beneficial to students who are trying to master literacy skills.

Functional literacy is not something that I ever considered when tutoring students at a local elementary school. Given the fact that there is a culture gap between the facilitators and the children in N. Ghana I see how functional literacy is appropriate for SfL. I wonder how it would come into play for me in my placement or when I’m volunteering.


alesnick's picture

literacy in (as?) community

Thank you for stretching the School for Life study to your placement/volunteer work.  I am curious about how you make and assign value to this stretch over time!  You set us up well here for our class work tomorrow.  An extension: do you agree with Gee's claim that there is no such thing as learning to read and write apart from particular functions, particular discourses, particular communities?  Or do you think that takes things too far?