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On Three Dimensions of Literacy

by Muhammad Nur Alam Tejo, Research Intern PCI 2018


Technology plays a significant role in the society. One of its impacts includes the changing use of media from the printed ones to digital. Despite this shift, we need to act and react as wisely as we could. Therefore, meticulousness in perceiving the concept of literacy will help us understand the challenges within.

Todays, literacy has complicated conceptual problems. Even some researchers has preferred the term “literacies” to “literacy” (such as: Street, 1995; Hamilton, Barton, Ivanic, 1994) as it is assumed to be more apposite for social, cultural, and ideological matters which ‘we perceive, act, and read culturally’ (Street, 2001: 11). Diverse perspectives on literacy lead us to more complex social problems since they involve various layers of people. This is one of the literacy challenges related to social situation in the society.

Prior to digital era, the concept of “literacy” merely referred to the ability to understand information through reading and writing. Meanwhile, now it has been extended into the ability to write, read, and comprehend information through digital media, such as videos, voice records, graphs, and audiovisual. In fact, the impacts should be taken into account since digital literacy could contribute to people’s paradigm shift philosophically, sociologically, pedagogically, and culturally. This literacy is always closely related to people’s cultural and social contexts.

Three kinds of literacy dimensions proposed by Green (1988), the operational, cultural, and critical, define how literacy runs practically in the society. Due to the lack of attention on those dimensions, our pedagogical system too much focuses only on the operational one.  On the other hand, the cultural and critical dimensions seems to be left behind. It is proven by Indonesia’s low literacy rate in showing that we were in the 60th out of 61 surveyed countries, according to the result of PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) 2015. Should we implement the concept of those dimensions, we could foreshadow the challenges.  

The operational dimension is the basic one from literacy concept. It emphasizes on the ability to understand technical activities, including reading, writing, and comprehending information. In digital literacy context, it refers to the practical skills to understand how to operate digital media and fully make use of its features. The problems would be related to technical matters, for instance coding skill, graphic design, and statistical analysis.

The cultural dimension aims to upgrade one’s comprehension of cultural and social aspects in digital literacy into a specific context. It is important to apprehend cultural symbols and rituals for meaning making so that the values of literacy will still suit one’s cultural context. It might not be the primary discussion in the overview of our educational system even though it is substantial in shaping the base of human knowledge. It works in a non-materialistic matter which means cultural values and characters also play a role in meaning shaping on one’s knowledge.

On the other side, the critical dimension highlights one’s critical skill on texts and artifacts into issues like social agents and power, social representation, and other instruments. In digital literacy, this dimension consists of collective knowledge of each human. It defines the steps to be taken by human according to the analysis on the real problems.

It is important for us not only to reflect an educational system which accommodates digital literacy but also consider the dimensions on literacy concept. The objective is real simple which is to construct our people’s values, characters, and critical skill. We hope that all the hustle and bustle in digital space will not be a pain in the ass in the society. Digital literacy education that could beautifully combine the operational, cultural, and critical dimensions is expected to be the cure to any negative outcomes. Hence, Indonesians could enjoy the benefits of technology, not only the drawbacks.


References:

  • Green, B. (1988). Subject-specific literacy and school learning: A focus on writing. Australian Journal of Education. 32 (2)
  • Street, B. (2001). Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives. London: Routledge.