What is the Difference Between Literacy and Education

The main difference between literacy and education is that literacy refers to a person’s ability to read and write, while education refers to the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, values, morals, habits, and beliefs.

People often compare literacy, the ability to read and write, with education.  However, the two terms do not mean the same; education refers to the overall development of a person with regard to his knowledge, intellect, behaviour and sensibility. Therefore, literacy is just one step towards education.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Literacy
     – Definition, Features
2. What is Education
     – Definition, Features
3. Similarities Between Literacy and Education
     – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Literacy and Education
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Education, LiteracyDifference Between Literacy and Education - Comparison Summary

What is Literacy

In a broader sense, literacy refers to a person’s ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that allows clear and effective communication. However, the perceptions of literacy may vary from one culture to another. For instance, within the writing traditions of the English language, reading comprehension marks an extremely required skill of literacy, whereas this might not be required by communities who rarely read printed material.

Compare Literacy and Education

If you are a student, you need literacy to deal with your life on a daily basis. If you lack literacy skills, you won’t be able to do well at school, you will be cut off from the job market, and as a parent, you won’t get a chance to help your own child with his school work. Above all, if you are a well literate person, you will be able to communicate clearly and effectively, get updated with current events and understand the issues that are molding our world

Literacy development takes place both at school and at home. If you need to enhance the literacy skills of a child, the best thing you can do is to encourage his reading habits and make him use the library more and more as letting children read a wide range of texts allows them to explore and expand their literacy skills.

What is Education

Education refers to imparting the values and knowledge from one person to another. In this sense, it is similar to the popular concept in social sciences, ‘enculturation.’

Children are born without any sense of culture; therefore, education functions to guide them in acquiring culture, shaping their behaviour, and ultimately directing them to play their eventual role in society. However, in the most primitive cultures, there exists hardly any formal education provided within the formal settings of education, such as schools with classes and teachers. Instead, for them, the entire environment they live alongside provide them with enough education and make them acquire the skills required for them to survive in that environment.

Literacy vs Education

With the evolution of time, societies started to get more complex. This led men to come up with a more efficient and effective mode of imparting knowledge and cultural transmission. The outcome was the establishments with teachers, which provided a formal education.

 Similarities Between Literacy and Education

  1. Literacy is just one step towards education. Therefore, literacy can be considered a part of education.
  2. Literacy is a factor essential to measure the level of education in a country.

Difference Between Literacy and Education


Literacy, in general, refers to a person’s ability to read and write. Education refers to the process of overall development of a person and involves his acquisition of knowledge, values, morals, skills, habits, and beliefs.


Education helps to build a wiser man, providing him with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. In contrast, literacy is just a step toward education. Literacy cannot always build a wiser man.

Long Lasting Nature

As once mentioned by Frederick W. Robertson, literacy can be forgotten, but education cannot. For instance, most of us know how to bake a cake, but not all of us are recognized as bakers. To become a baker, one must have years of experience and good practice.


In brief, the main difference between literacy and education is that literacy involves a person’s ability to read and write, while education refers to the complete development of a person in terms of knowledge, behaviour, and sensibility. However, even though a person is literate, if he does not have a proper education, there is a high chance that his actions and behaviour would not reflect those of an educated and sensible person. Therefore, literacy without proper education is worthless.


1. “Benefits of Education.” Global Partnership for Education.
2. “What Is Literacy?” National Literacy Trust.

Image Courtesy:

1. “World literacy map UNHD 2007 2008” By Sbw01f – self-made (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Boys-kids-children-happy-sitting-286245” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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