Why is Functional Literacy important for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

To understand why functional literacy is so important for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), we have to unpack a few concepts and understand how we got to where we are today.

The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The fourth industrial revolution – where we are now – in the current environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence are changing the way we live and work.

During each of these periods, skilled people were required to manufacture and bring to market the various technologies. But we also needed people who were able to use and apply the technologies in their daily lives. In the earlier revolutions, it was relatively easy to master the various skills and applications within the workplace.

The 4IR is so complex and so pervasive, that ordinary citizens now need a matrix of embedded skills and understandings to make sense of and to use the technologies in their everyday lives. Functioning in the modern world requires a special kind of functional literacy.

Why does our high-tech society need Functional Literacy

Why does our high-tech society need Functional Literacy

In general, when we talk about literacy we refer to the ability to read, write and do elementary numerical calculations. But there is an inherent complexity to this. Reading the words in a document is not enough. There is a requirement to understand the arguments, the turns of phrase and the allusions. Problems have to be solved, the implications of calculations assessed and arguments put forward in the active everyday use of literacy.

StatsSA used the attainment of a Grade 7 pass as an indicator of literacy. They have realised that a certain level of educational attainment not necessarily a good indicator of the functional use of that level of education, and have augmented this with additional dimensions. We can immediately see the limitations of such a crude measure when we apply this to adults, especially those who have completed school successfully and are readying themselves for the world of work.

It is one thing to be able to read write and to do sums. It is quite another to apply these concepts perceptively in a complex, changing technological world. This is what we mean by functional literacy.

The UNESCO General Conference uses this definition of functional literacy:

A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.”

There are four different levels of functional literacy.

LevelAbilityExample
Below Basic LiteracyRead and write words and numbers in very simple documents.Identify information on a chart; sign a form; adding a dollar amount to a deposit slip.
Basic LiteracyUnderstand short textsReading a pamphlet; using a TV guide; compare ticket prices
Intermediate LiteracyUnderstand long textsLook up information in a reference book; summarise a long article; place an order and calculate the cost.
Proficient LiteracyUnderstand long, complex texts.Compare viewpoints in newspapers; interprete statistical graphs; calculate the cost of food items weight.
Adapted Source: National Assessment of Adult Literacy

It is the last and most complex level of functional literacy – proficient functional literacy – that concerns us here. The 21st-century economy demands highly skilled workers with knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We can justifiably say that functional literacy is essential for a functional society.

Functional literacy is about developing and enhancing the skills our whole society needs to function. If we don’t have individuals with mathematical knowledge, reading and writing skills, or analytical abilities, we cannot have functioning communities, businesses, or governments.

But functional literacy is not just reading, writing and arithmetic lumped together. We can tease out a number of literacies which help to make up a functional society.

  • Civic Literacy- understanding how government works and the rights and responsibilities of a citizen and voter.
  • Computer Literacy – the ability to use computers. This skill set can range from using applications like email, word processors and spreadsheets to advanced knowledge about programming and computer science. We also have to contend with digital literacy, information literacy and data literacy.
  • Financial Literacy – manage finances and make decisions about money.
  • Health Literacy – make lifestyle choices about nutrition, exercise, sleep, and other factors that affect physical and mental well-being.
  • Legal Literacy- interpret legislation, contracts and legal procedures.
  • Media Literacy – access, evaluate, and create messages through different types of media. To be a thoughtful citizen who isn’t susceptible to propaganda or advertising.
  • Scientific Literacy -able to support or contradict preconceived beliefs or hypotheses using factual evidence.

The list above is not comprehensive. But we will immediately see that proficient functional literacy in the world of 4IR is very different to and much more complex than proficient functional literacy prior to this time.

Proficient functional literacy in the 4IR is not necessarily being able to code. It is about understanding what coding is, how these technologies work and being able to integrate them into daily life. This is why proficient functional literacy is essential for playing a role in our current high-tech society.

Proficient functional literacy is not static, as the needs change, so the literacy demands change. We are on the continual treadmill of catch-up to enable us to be competent, robust contributors to our society. In the 1980s we used devices for spreadsheets and word-processing, and we that that was pretty good!. Now we use our devices for email, browsers, entertainment centres and online meetings. And this is just the simple stuff, we aren’t talking about coding and simulations. The level of literacy demanded in our times is ever-changing.

There are two further literacy proficiencies required from all of us to operate effectively in the 4IR.

Ethical literacy is the ability to apply beliefs and principles of right or wrong in human interactions. These beliefs intersect with value systems, religious views, legal systems, philosophies, social conventions and moral codes. An ethically literate person is able to reflect, analyse and reason about moral issues and dilemmas and, more importantly, behave and act in a morally appropriate manner. Ethical literacy has an important role to play the use and interpretation of data and the responsible use of social media. A great deal of personal data is harvested and stored from online interactions, and organisations and decision-makers must have a sound ethical base to govern how they use this very sensitive data.

And then there is a cluster of very important skills, which cut across the categories above, but which are essential for functioning in a modern business environment.

We have to exercise judgement when we use, interpret and validate internet platforms, social media, and mobile devices. We need an extraordinary type of critical thinking skill when we are confronted with the barrage of information in different formats and presentations on the internet. We have to be able to search, sift, evaluate, collate, apply, summarise and produce information, all of which require us to think critically.

We require a distinct functional proficiency when communicating in virtual environments, the ability to clearly express our ideas, ask relevant questions, maintain respect, and build trust when we are not communicating in person.

We also need the “tech-smarts” – practical skills in technology to access, manage, manipulate and create information in an ethical and sustainable way – it’s a continual learning process.

The functional literacies we have been discussing are really important in the professional world. In just about every workplace, we are required to interact with people in digital environments, use information in appropriate ways, and create new ideas and products collaboratively. We need to maintain our identity and wellbeing as the 4IR continues to change our world.

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Higher Certificate in Business Management

The challenge is how to upskill ourselves to master these literacies when we are not employed, or even when we are underemployed? How to we find a direct path to set us up for successful entry to the workplace. How do we get from an entry-level job to the next rung on the ladder? How do we differentiate ourselves from thousands of other job seekers?

Higher Certificate in Business Management

The internationally regarded Regenesys Business School offers a one-year Higher Certificate in Business Management (HCBM) to assist recent [and not so recent] school leavers and those already in the workplace. The HCBM provides fundamental skills, knowledge and understanding to prepare you for a career in management. It offers career opportunities to you by broadening your understanding of general business administration and management practices to establish and effectively manage a business. After successful completion of an HCBM, you can go on to a bachelor’s degree in business, and specifically to the Regenesys BBA.  The programme is formally accredited by the Council for Higher Education of South Africa.

Now a qualification in business management is very versatile. The skills and insights mastered in this qualification can directly and immediately be applied in the private and public sectors, and in NGOs. You don’t have to have ‘manager’ in your job title to benefit from an HCBM. Employers look for people with initiative and drive. The successful completion of an HCBM is evidence that the holder has what it takes.

The HCBM consists of four compulsory modules:

  • Fundamentals of Business Management
  • Fundamentals of Human Resource Management
  • Fundamentals of Financial Management
  • Principles of Marketing

Woven into this content, you will find the functional literacy content we discussed earlier on. In addition, you may choose two highly relevant elective courses, [subject to student numbers] from the following

  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Project Management
  • Retail Management
  • Credit Management
  • Quality and Customer Service Management
  • Fundamentals of Sales Management
  • Negotiation and Sales Management
  • Fundamentals of Operations Management

All organisations require functionally literate staff with these indispensable skills and knowledge. When you complete the Regenesys Higher Certificate in Business Management you will be able to initiate, develop, implement and evaluate operational strategies, projects and action plan to improve effectiveness. You will be able to monitor and measure performance and apply continuous or innovative improvement interventions.

You will have all the insights to lead and manage a team of first-line managers to enhance individual, team and unit effectiveness, and build relationships with superiors and with stakeholders across the value chain. You will be able to enhance the development of teams and team members

Furthermore, you will be able to apply the principles of risk, financial and knowledge management and business ethics within internal and external regulatory frameworks.

All you need is need an NQF Level 4 qualification (e.g. Matric exemption or equivalent) and basic computer skills. And of course, the necessary funding to participate.

Education For All (ED4ALL)

Finding the necessary funding for a life-changing qualification like the HCBM would normally be where people shrug and walk away.

Education For All (ED4ALL)

The Regenesys Business School, through the Regenesys Foundation, has created a unique Education for All [Ed4All] programme to disrupt traditional models of education. It uses technology to deliver online life-changing programmes. The initiative is open to those who truly are poor, but have the aptitude and desire to study further.

If you are bright, young and ambitious, with good school-leaving results, this could be for you.

Regenesys believes that the cost of higher education should not be preventing anyone from achieving their dreams. Ed4All allows financially disadvantaged students to gain access to higher business education like the HCBM by paying a nominal fee, calculated according to their means, from as little as R 500 per month. All content is delivered online. Students can study from home, without having to commute to a campus. Once students complete their qualification and obtain employment, they pay off the remainder of the loan. Interest is charged at commercial rates and the repayment period is adjusted according to the students’ circumstances after graduation.

The Education for All initiative aims to create a world in which higher education is a human right for all and not a privilege of the wealthy and produce better leaders and a better world.

The Ed4All initiative is viable because it rides on the back of Regenesys Business School’s extensive investment in digital distance education. Ed4All students get access to exactly the same materials as do their regular fee-paying students.

You may want to sponsor a family member – Click here to become a sponsor of the Ed4All initiative.

If the HCBM appeals to you, and you want to become proficient at all the functional literacies we have covered above, then click here to become a student on the Ed4All initiative.

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