Tackling Gender Inequality, Raising Pupil Achievement

By Jim O'Brien; Christine Forde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

LITERACY AND GENDER
- CONTEXTUALISATION AND DEVELOPMENT

Alastair McPhee


Introduction

One of the areas of concern with policy and practice in education is the question of literacy. Literacy is regarded as essential, acting as a gateway to the curriculum and achievement. Literacy has also taken on a wider significance in terms of social and political development most notably through the work of Paolo Friere where literacy is the means to enable disempowered groups to develop agency and tackle issues of poverty and social marginalisation. However, trends in education indicate that literacy is gendered, with greater numbers of boys than girls not achieving in language. In Scotland there has been a long tradition in developing literacy across all sectors of society as the basis for the development of a school education system nationally.

In this chapter we look back to these historical antecedents in the development of literacy in education in Scotland to illustrate the central place the development of literacy has in the educational process. Given the importance of literacy, we then consider the way in which literacy has become a key issue in discussions about gender in education, particularly the progress of boys. It is against this backdrop that specific strategies used by schools are explored. Literacy is capable of multiple definitions: for example, it may be defined as simply the ability to decode text and to understand the representation of sound in orthography. On the other hand, it might also be defined as a higher—rder skill in which it is used metacognitively in order to access concepts and understandings, or to attain creative expression. Ultimately, literacy may be seen as a means of advancing democracy and empowerment. For the purposes of at least the first part of this chapter, we shall be looking at the definition of literacy as the acquisition of basic reading skills.

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