Literacy is one of the most popular topics in contemporary research. The crisis of literacy is believed to have far-reaching implications for the future of global society. The emergence of numerous literacies, most of which are socially construed, has become the distinctive feature of the global reality. Here, we talk about health literacy, which often serves as the key outcome in health education (Nutbeam, 2000). We also speak about workplace literacy, which is vitally important for safety and continuous quality improvement in organizations (Hunter et al, 2008). Contemporary researchers believe that (a) literacy difficulties are responsible for the prevailing majority of social ills, including poverty and disease, and (b) most workers demonstrate insufficient literacy skills and, for this reason, are unsuitable for their jobs (Jackson, 2004). This paper will evaluate the seriousness of the literacy issues and their implications for the workplace.
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I do not think so. The crisis of literacy is more of a myth rather than a reality. Jackson (2004) is correct that most beliefs about literacy are inadequate and do not reflect the complexity of social interactions in the workplace. That most workers lack sufficient literacy skills is an erroneous belief. Unfortunately, the popular discourse of literacy in workplace environments considerably devalues human literacy potential (Jackson, 2004). Moreover, literacy can never be a universal cure to all social ills. Based on what Jackson (2004) writes about the literacy crisis, I feel that the problem is not in the lack of appropriate literacy skills. Rather, organizations simply fail to define appropriate boundaries of literacy in the workplace. Managers continuously strive for complexity. They believe that literacy cannot be simple. As a result, all rules, procedures, strategies, and requirements that govern workplace decisions and acts are incomprehensible. It is not a crisis of literacy – it is a crisis of comprehensibility, which burdens and distorts the picture of efficiency in organizations.
It is high time organizations realized that everyone has the right to comprehensibility. More importantly, comprehensibility must become the basic criterion of safety, accountability, and quality assurance in the workplace. Pringle (2005) writes that people with limited literacy abilities need readable texts and information, but my opinion is that all people, irrespective of their literacy skills, deserve to have readable and usable information! For some unknown reason, plain language in the workplace is considered outdated and inappropriate informal communication. Consequentially, all formal documents are overloaded with terminology and complex constructs, which the most sophisticated readers fail to understand. In her article, Sally McBeth (2005) votes for the use of plain language, since it can readily solve most literacy problems and force clarity and rigor in reading and writing.
I support McBeth (2005) in her argument for language simplicity and plainness. The fact is that communicative participation in the workplace leads to the creation of meaning (Hunter et al, 2008). The latter, in turn, predicts and predetermines the quality of individual behaviors in various workplace situations. Formal language does not necessarily mean complex language. Simultaneously, plain language is not necessarily unprofessional. Organizations and managers must use language that is equally formal and comprehensible since all workers have the right to comprehensibility. In a nutshell, it is due to the comprehensibility that workers can guarantee the safety and security of their workplace operations. Comprehensibility must become the ultimate goal of literacy education and the key criterion of quality and efficiency in the workplace.
Hunter, J., Belfiore, M.E., Defoe, T., Folinsbee, S. & Jackson, N. (2008). Quality control in the new workplace: Implications of ethnography for language and literacy learners. An Australian Journal of TESOL, 23, 2, 5-12.
Jackson, N. (2004). Rethinking the ‘Literacy crisis’. In M.E. Belfiore, T.A. Defoe, S. Folinsbee, J. Hunter & N.S. Jackson (eds), Reading work: Literacies in the new workplace, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 7-8.
McBeth, S. (2005). How writers create illiteracy. Literacies, 6, 4-5.
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Nutbeam, D. (2000). Health literacy as a public health goal: A challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies into the 21st century. Health Promotion International, 15, 3, pp.259-267.
Pringle, J. (2005). No justice without clear language. Literacies, 6, 12-13.