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Literacy, on which studies have been conducted since the 1950s, is a wider concept that covers reading and writing actions. The English word "literacy" in the beginning meant the capacity to articulate the letters and reading the texts using these letters, but then the meaning got more comprehensive.

This concept that formed in the Western culture and started to be used with its new meaning in Turkey has changed and become different as a result of researches carried out in the field of educational sciences, and social and technological developments in the world.

This change and differentiation that started in the 1970s rapidly increased after the 1980s. During the 1980s, literacy was defined as way of understanding, interpreting the events, facts, situations and objects.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) needed to classify the literacy within the framework of the "Education For All" program in 1987, taking into consideration the development of the concept in the world and the studies conducted in the field. Three different levels of definition were adopted to enable better understanding of the concept:

First level: Basic Literacy

Second level: Functional Literacy

Third level: Multi-functional Literacy

Particularly after the 1990s, the conceptual framework of literacy further differentiated and diversified depending on the technological developments, changes in the living conditions in urban areas, and newly arisen necessities. Now, literacy concept covers not a single fact, but multiple facts. The word literacy has started being used along with different disciplines such as "computer literacy, technology literacy, Internet literacy, media literacy, etc.".

Additionally, other types of literacy, such as information literacy, culture literacy, history literacy, environment literacy, art literacy, finance literacy, and universal literacy, have been defined and studies started to be carried out on such additional types of literacy. In developed countries, this term has started to be used in the meaning of a kind of communication surrounding the entire life of a human, a style of living.

For the first time in 1997, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed a research examination called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) in an attempt to determine the situation of the developed and developing countries in terms of education, and to establish their position among all countries in the world.

Upon determination of the reading skills, and level of knowledge of mathematics and science subjects of students at the age of 15 in countries that participated in the PISA programme, it was determined whether they had the skills required for the present world, such as whether they can associate their knowledge with their daily lives, solve the problems using this knowledge, develop solutions to problems, think about the subjects, offer creative recommendations, and use the computer efficiently, etc.

The countries that participated in the PISA programme were expected to improve their educational statuses and develop their education policies in such a way to educate "literate individuals" depending on the reports in the fields of Reading (skills) literacy, Mathematics literacy, Science literacy, and Computer literacy upon receipt of their respective research results.

After this examination became widespread and started to be considered a benchmark reflecting the educational statuses of countries, the relation of the literacy concept with other fields of education and learning has been realized. Life-long learning is now considered along with this concept, and the term 'literacy' has started to be used for many fields requiring association with daily life and gaining awareness: History literacy, environment literacy, finance literacy, art literacy...

In developed countries in the world, the development of and changes in this concept were closely followed, and important steps have been taken to generalize the literacy with its new concept value. Firstly, significant amendments have been made in the curricula to improve the literacy levels of individuals and to provide them with new literacy skills at educational institutions. The state institutions made arrangements in accordance with this change that depends on the change of the society and development of the communication technologies. Particularly, the following steps have been taken considering the results of the PISA programme in the European countries after 2000:

* The European Council identified raising the low literacy levels of 15 age group in the fields of reading, mathematics, and science, as seen as a result of the PISA programme, as Europe's joint objective. Considering the result of the examination, the Council aims to reduce the rate of students with low level of literacy down to 20% by 2020.

* The European Council formed a top-level working group consisting of 11 independent specialists in order to analyze the relevant data and good practices in the field. This working group, whose purpose is to create a strong information foundation for policymakers and executors, submitted its report to the European Commission in 2012.

* Important reforms highlighting the literacy have been made in the curricula of all European countries, except for Bulgaria and Iceland, within the last decade. Countries like France, Austria, the United Kingdom and Norway have additionally diversified their teaching methods. Hungary has increased the time reserved for reading; Denmark, Italy and the United Kingdom have taken measures to improve early reading skills in the preschool period, which is very important for literacy.

* Four European countries (Estonia. Greece, Latvia, Slovenia) and Turkey have changed their teaching approaches, and adopted the approaches giving priority to language and literacy.

With its new meaning and concept value, literacy has also entered in the Native Language Teaching Curricula of the world countries. The Curriculum in Australia has been shaped based on three fields of learning that are interrelated with each other; 1- Language, 2- Literature, 3- Literacy. In this curriculum, literacy is defined as "a field which students use to efficiently listen, read, and examine a variety of texts". Ireland included Information Technologies Literacy in its Native Language Curriculum, and Canada the Media Literacy, and Denmark the Critical Literacy, which is a reflection of the critical thinking in literacy.

In addition to the above, institutions and organizations established in the USA, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to improve the literacy levels of the society have implemented thousands of projects with the support from their respective Ministries of Education, Ministries of Internal Affairs, and Ministries of Culture, and funds are allocated by the state for such projects. In addition to the concerned public institutions, hundreds of non-governmental organizations have implemented literacy projects to increase the literacy levels of the society.

The Ministry of Education in France increased the activities in the curriculum aimed at increasing the reading habits, and the Ministry of Culture implemented many projects relating to the reading culture. Besides these general attempts, France has tried to increase the literacy level of the society through the following activities:

The Ministry of Education found that the number of hidden illiterate people was around 3,100,000 and therefore developed projects "to make the children and adults, who have learned to read and write but do not use these skills for a number of reasons".

The institution named National Observatory of Reading (l'Observatoire Nationale de la Lecture) established in France as a consultancy institution affiliated to the Ministry of Education in 1996 transferred its duties to the School Education Directorate after 2011. This institution has published reports regarding the literacy status of the society since its foundation, carried out researches on reading education and teaching in the educational system, and made recommendations to the Ministry.

Many projects have been implemented by the National Agency for Struggle Against Illiteracy (l'Agence Nationale de Lutte Contre l'Illetrisme) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and another public institution since 2000. The non-governmental organizations have also participated in these programs.

In 2010, the French Ministry of Culture prepared a plan aimed at development of reading habits. An annual budget of approximately 100 million Euros was reserved for implementation of this plan.

The United States of America established its own National Literacy Institute, and the Continental Europe formed institutions that give priority to the reading concept, and even though it is not literally called literacy, that work for the same purpose as literacy. In the USA, hundreds of literacy projects supported by Non-Governmental Organizations have been implemented.

Developed European countries such as Germany and France have been generated projects in centers they built for decades (e.g. Center of German Reading Initiative and France Reading Strategies Development Unit) to improve their societies' literacy conditions.

Likewise, many countries in the world have created their literacy maps to see their own literacy status and the differences between regions. They prepared action plans based on these maps to improve literacy.

Some countries like Australia adopted literacy as a government policy, and important changes have been made based on this concept while creating the general policies of the government.

Literacy in Turkey

The literacy efforts in Turkey started as efforts aimed at teaching basic level of reading and writing. Courses have been provided to thousands of illiterate adults at schools and Public Education Centres affiliated to the Ministry of National Education in an attempt to increase the number of people who can read and write. In addition to these courses, for which the spouse of the President acted as symbolic chairman, thousands of additional courses were opened at schools and the Public Education Centres of the Ministry of National Education. Today, 86% of population of Turkey is literate at basic level.

This percentage meets the basic literacy level defined by UNESCO. Extensive researches need to be conducted in order to identify the percentage of the functional literates in the country. As is known, functional literacy is a concept defined as the capability to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level. Even though there are no extensive researches in this respect, it is possible to access some data based on the statistics involving number of books and newspapers published and sold in the country, etc.

The Children's Foundation prepared a report titled "Turkey's Report Card for Reading Habit" assessing the general status of Turkey in 2006. According to this report that sought answers to the questions "Why don't we read?", "How can we become a society that reads?" defined the general literacy status of the country as follows:

* Children in Turkey rank 28th among 35 countries in terms of reading habits.

* Books rank 235th among basic necessities,

* Only 19% of the students own more than 25 books in Turkey,

* The money spent for books on annual basis is 45 cents,

* Only 8% of the people going to libraries go there for reading books,

* 33.4 % of teachers regularly read book,

* Parents do not put forth any efforts. Only one parent out of four puts forth efforts to develop their children's reading habit.

The Turkish Ministry of National Education started to organize annual symposiums titled Reading Culture and Application Problems at Schools in 2004. Even though their organization is interrupted from time to time, these symposiums continued in 2012 and 2013. Papers on literacy and reading habits, seeking answers to the question as to how to improve them at schools, have been presented at these symposiums.

The Turkish Ministry of National Education shared the results of the PISA examination participated in 2009 with the public. According to the 2009 results, among 65 countries, Turkey ranked 43rd with 448 points in Mathematics score (OECD average is 494), 42nd with 475 points in Reading skills habit (OECD average 496), and 46th with 463 points in Science score (OECD average 501). These results show that Turkey ranks below the OECD averages in all these three fields. However, a specific progress has been achieved, albeit small, in the country. According to the 2012 results of the PISA examination, Turkey achieved 11 points of improvement in reading, 9 points in science, and merely 3 points in mathematics.

On the other hand, the Turkish Ministry of National Education underwent an administrative restructuring in 2011, and as part of this restructuring, the General Directorate of Life Long Learning was established. Many educations associated with "life long learning", which is an extension of literacy in non-formal education, was affiliated with this unit. This centre undertook the duty to organize many educational activities relating to non-formal education, including teaching adults how to read and write, as well as open high school, and started to work on a basic problem with the Adult Learning Project, but failed to undertake a role to deal with and develop the literacy in the meaning at PISA.

The Ministry of National Education's General Directorate of Innovations and Technologies publishes bulletins on a portal to draw attention of the public, and particularly the teachers, to the status of Turkey at the PISA examinations. Furthermore, the portal also publishes the PISA reports for each period.

The Campaign for Supporting the National Education implemented under the auspices of the President was organized to teach basic literacy to adults, but as from 2008, the campaign aimed to improve the functional literacy of the society and it was tried to spread it all around the country. The "Turkey Reads Campaign" lasted until 2010, and it was supported by the Governors, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Culture.

Another important project aimed at development of functional literacy in Turkey was implemented by the Ministry of National Education. The programme called "It is High Time to Read" that started in 2010 and lasted in 2012 aimed to get all levels of the society, particularly children and young people, to adopt the habit of reading to create an intellectual Turkish society desired.

Non-governmental organizations, municipalities and other institutions affiliated to the municipalities opened and continue to open courses to increase the number of adult literates in Turkey.

Because they are also a part of a commercial activity, the book fairs as an event aimed at supporting literacy for adults and children are opened in many provinces, particularly in Istanbul, and the number and quality of these fairs continuously increase every year. Depending on the developments in the field of children's books, the Children's Books Fairs continue to become popular in many provinces, shopping malls, and even at private schools.

Even though there are increases in the number of the publishing houses and books read in recent years (e.g. 46 thousand books, copyrighted or translations, were published in Turkey in 2012), this figure is rather low when the population of the country considered and compared to the books per capita in developed countries.

Libraries continue to be a problem in the country. Public libraries do not operate in line with their foundation purposes, and they fail to reach the qualified audience. Number of state libraries is inadequate. Even though the number of children's libraries has increased in recent years as a result of efforts of the municipalities, they lack the facilities to meet the children's needs.

Academicians paid attention to a number of fields of literacy, published articles in scientific magazines, and presented papers at conferences and symposiums dealing with literacy in its different aspects.

The theme of the 21st National Educational Sciences Conference held at Marmara University in 2012 was "Literacy in the 21st Century and its Future". Approximately 200 scientist presented papers in different fields of literacy at this conference. Literacy continues drawing attention of the academicians today. Studies dealing with many aspects of literacy still continue in the fields of science and social sciences.

The Documentation Centre of the Council of Higher Education (YOK) has 14 post-graduate and doctoral theses written in a number of universities on visual literacy, information literacy, media literacy, etc.

Mother-Child Education Foundation (ACEV) is a non-governmental organization known with literacy projects. Particularly emphasizing pre-school education, ACEV organized campaigns that created tremendous impressions like "Seven is too late for Education". ACEV opened literacy portal titled "READ AND WRITE WITH ACEV" for the first time in Turkey.

The Ministry of Culture carried out a comprehensive research to identify the Reading Problems in 2009. Again in 2011, the Ministry also created "Turkey's Reading Culture Map" after conducting face-to-face survey with 6200 people in 26 provinces. The Ministry aims to develop strategies to improve the reading habits of the people based on this map.


All studies carried out in the field of literacy in Turkey have been conducted by universities and private institutions and organizations under the auspices of the President, promotion from the government, and project support from the Ministry of Culture. Even though these studies are moves that will initiate the change and transformation, they are not effective and permanent strategies and applications. And although they emphasize the place of literacy in the lives of people and the society, no noticeable awareness has been observed in the society yet. Both the governmental and non-governmental organizations need to carry out long-term and consistent activities in order to ensure that people become literate individuals. Whereas, most of the developed countries monitored the change and transformation in the literacy concept that started in the 1970s, and having become aware of the place of literacy in the modern life, they developed government policies, formed public institutions, cooperated with non-governmental organizations, and implemented projects in order to improve the literacy of the society.

This change and transformation in the developed countries was noticed by the Turkish Ministry of Education only after the 2000s, and educationalists and academicians were late to become aware of its importance. Because of the fact that it was not possible to create awareness in a large portion of the society with respect to this concept and its contents, literacy is still considered the basic reading and writing skills.

Considering the fact Australia adopted literacy as a government policy in 1991, and made required arrangements in its own institutions and organizations accordingly, it can be clearly seen how far Turkey is from this change and transformation in the world. Particularly, necessary changes have not been made in the educational institutions, and academicians have not been able to pay necessary attention to literacy for many years for they were unable to follow these developments in the world.

As a result of all these reasons, in spite of establishment of the General Directorate of Life Long Learning by the Ministry of National Education, a considerable portion of the society and educationalists have not been able to define the literacy with its concept value in the world. It has not been possible to become aware of the importance of literacy in lifelong learning and in preparing for the life itself.

Turkey had been unable to know its own status in terms of literacy and its position among other countries in the world until the PISA programme participated in 2003 for the first time. On the other hand, entire Germany was shocked to learn that the country ranked 20th in mathematics, 20th in natural sciences, and 21st in reading skills among 30 OECD countries in 2000. When the results of the 2003 PISA were announced, even though they ranked above average, the German education community was extremely shocked again. As a result, the educational status of the country was dealt with and discussed in details, and required measures were taken to make improvements in literacy at schools.

Although Turkey ranked 56th among 57 countries that participated in PISA in 2006, and 64th among 65 countries in 2009, the education system in the country was not adequately dealt with and discussed among educationalists and academicians. Considering the society in general, it can be seen that required sensitivity regarding the issue has not developed, and debates and discussions similar to those made in developed countries when their PISA ranking dropped have not been seen in Turkey.

Even though this issue is not discussed by the society in Turkey in general. Department of Educational Research and Development of the Turkish Ministry of National Education organized the Student Achievement Examination (OBBS) similar to PISA in an attempt to update the educational policies. The first OBBS was organized in 2002, and the last one in 2008 triennially, and detailed reports were prepared after these examinations, as in the PISA exams. The 2008 report was shared with academicians and the public at a Workshop held in 2009.

Likewise, the Ministry of National Education's General Directorate of Innovations and Technologies prepared a book titled PISA 2012 to draw attention of the society, particularly of the teachers, to the status of Turkey in PISA examinations, and opened a special website for this purpose. The website contains the PISA reports for each year, as well as bulletins regarding the issue.

In recent years, efforts of the Ministry have begun to bring results, and sensitivity has started to form among people and educationalists about the PISA results. Even, albeit small, a slight improvement was observed in Turkey's ranking in 2009 PISA exam. Turkey improved its position among OECD countries with 11 -point increase in its score between 2009 and 2012. After 2009, reasons of the failure were researched, a series of measures were taken, and teachers were provided with on-the-job-training. Consequently Turkey ranked 34th among 87 countries in PISA 2012.

Some educators and academicians considered this considerable improvement the result of adoption of the constructivist curriculum approach after radical changes in the curricula as from 2004-2005. The fact that the new curricula included objectives and applications relating to the literacy concept will bring the education given at schools closer to the questions of the PISA research examination. However, because teachers, who are the implementers of the curricula at schools, are still uninformed about the "literacy" concept, the literacy has not become the basic concept of the educational activities at educational institutions in Turkey yet. However, some private educational institutions have applications based on literacy concept.

Relevant Literature

Altun, Arif. (2005). Developing technologies and new types of literacy. Ankara: Ani Publications.

Gunes. F. (1997). Teaching reading and brain technology. Ankara: Ocak Publications.

Ministry of National Education. (2009). Elemantary Education OBBS Report. Ankara: Earged

Minirsty of National Education. (2012). Pisa Turkey, Ankara: Yegitek.

Ministry of National Education, (2013), Pisa 2012 Pre-Report, Ankara: Yegitek.

Lankshear, C. (1999). Literacy Studies in Education: Disciplined Developments in a Post-

Savas, B. (2006). Reading education and development of language in children. Istanbul: Alfa Publications.

Teacing Reading in Europe: Contexts. Policies an Practices. Brussels: Eurydice http://simdiokumazamani.meb.


Marmara University, Ataturk Faculty of Education, Department of Elemantary Education
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Author:Acici, Dr. Murat
Publication:Reading Improvement
Date:Dec 22, 2018

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