What is the difference between literacy and education?

It was a misty morning. I found two people sitting across each other, reportedly, engulfed in a heated discussion. One of them was a student and the other was an old man. The student boasted of erstwhile schooling and argued that he could read and write and was thus educated. While the other explained that the mere ability to read and write did not mean education. As the train reached its destination, both fathomed at the incompetence of each other. What they still didn’t understand was the real difference between literacy and education.


There is an established misconception in our society that education is synonymous with literacy. A large sector believes it to be one and the same, while some believe that literacy is a stepping stone to education. Although there lies a hint of truth in the former, it would be categorically wrong to imbibe literacy as the sole form of education. Then what is the difference between literacy and education? 

Literacy is defined as acquiring the ability to read, write and understand. It is entirely concerned with the art of reading and writing. It provides information that can be used as a means to attain knowledge. Where information is the theoretical know-how of a subject, and knowledge is the awareness about the use of that information. It is a primary form of information transmission for this time and era.

Literacy provides a person with the ability to acquire information to develop the know-how called education.

Whereas education is defined as the systematic process of facilitating learning, receiving, experiencing and/or acquiring knowledge, skills, values and beliefs to impart instructions and provide an overall development. While an educated person can be literate, every literate person cannot be called educated. Education is a broader concept which takes into consideration the all-round development of a human personality. Whereas literacy is a narrower concept that tends to maintain the status quo. Education aims to make a person rational i.e. to think comprehensively and reason scientifically. It includes developing skills and learning to manoeuvre them in the right direction.

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A common belief maintains that educated people are bereft of superstitions, biasedness, irrational sociological religious beliefs and customs.

Also, education brings a revolution in the way of thinking. It encourages a person to think out of the box (creatively). It inspires a person to be curious, innovative and develop rational behaviour. The relative behaviour is dependent upon people, where the form of education varies. A person’s education is dependent upon her/his field of work and may not necessarily liberate her/him from mental slavery. 

The following pointers identify the primary differences between literacy and education:

  1. A person may be literate and also educated;
  2. A person may be literate but not educated;
  3. A person may be illiterate but still be educated;
  4. And a person may be illiterate and uneducated.

Another misconception nurtured by our society is that a person holding an educational degree or a diploma is educated. However, the same does not stand to be true. If that was the case then the founding fathers of our constitution would not have been addressed as learned. Remember, a literate person may need an education degree to prove his education, but a learned person does not require a degree to substantiate his experience. For example “the educational institutions in India are brimming with literates but are failing to produce educated beings”. A student cannot be considered educated with a mere ability to read and write. The student has to be changed as a whole, which includes teaching him to be sociologically and legally be responsible for society.

Further, literacy is not the sole form of education. An illiterate person can still be learned just like emperor Akbar and poet Kabira was. For example, a politician being illiterate may still be highly skilled in the art of being a politician; a painter in the skill of painting, a musician in the art of making music etc. Another prime example would be Matangini Hazra (late freedom fighter from Bengal, India). She was primarily illiterate but at the age of 71 led a procession of six thousand supporters to take over the Tamluk police stations. Despite being illiterate she was learned and educated in the art of politics and being a rebel.

As per the 2011 census, the country of India has a literacy rate of 74%, wherein 82% of men are literate and merely 65% of women can read and write. However, despite the said statistics, the country has seen a formidable rise in wrongdoing against the opposite gender. Therewith supporting the hypothesis that literacy does not denote education as whole. Also coining a social slang such as educated illiterate.

Reading book after book the whole world died, and none ever became learned!
                                                                    — Kabir Granthavali, XXXIII.3

The main purpose of education is to direct a person’s behaviour, while literacy is one of the tools in that direction. Education is a combination of experience and practice which not necessarily includes literacy. An illiterate sailor with a lifetime worth of practice and experience in the sea might still be learned and educated. Historically many saints and philosophers, though illiterate guided the coming generations with their experienced teachings. Which in short means ‘knowing the knowable is education‘. As said, the sky is the limit for educated, but educated in what is to be determined. 

There have been some famous illiterate people throughout the course of history:

  1. Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, a King of the Franks and Roman Empire beginning in 771 A.D. was believed to be illiterate during his youth.
  2. Isabella Baumfree, once an African-American slave in New York, made an escape in 1826, became a Christian, changed her name to Sojourner Truth and dedicated herself to spreading evangelism. Despite her illiteracy, she was an effective proponent of women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
  3. Genghis Khan was an illiterate Mongol leader. He created a code of laws for the Mongolian people and united them to conquer lands four times the size of those taken by Alexander the Great. He established the largest empire ever which stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan, with over 700 tribes and cities under his rule.
  4. Abadi Bano Begum or Bi Amman was one of the first Muslim women to actively participate in India’s independence movement. Despite being illiterate she was a prominent voice and representative of millions of women in the early 20th century. 
  5. Joseph Jefferson Jackson, nicknamed “Shoeless Joe”, was an American outfielder who played Major League Baseball in the early 20th century. He is remembered for his performance on the field. He was illiterate and often had his wife sign his signature.

The greatest issue with our society is that it denotes literacy on par with education. It strives to make a country full of literates but not educated. It is an undeniable fact that illiteracy is a root cause of many problems but illiteracy in itself does not denote a lack of education. A literate can read, write and understand but may not turn out to be a responsible person. Education may not necessarily construe people to be visionary but can make them rational and responsible citizens.

It is high time that we understand the difference between literacy and education because the mere ability to read and write is not enough. 

by boringbug

Let me know your thoughts in comments. You can also reach out to me on @instagram and @twitter

27 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes! all educated people are not educated….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the enlightening words.


  2. Anonymous says:


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nicely written and a very good question!

    I’d go a step further and ask “What the difference between being literate, educated and/or learned. . . and being wise?”

    All too often a person can literate, educated and learned yet have no idea how to life a good or meaningful life!

    The best education also helps us to be wise, to be ‘tuned in’, to be fully conscious . .. of what it means to human, for example.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is such an intriguing question. You remind me of my father who had portrayed a similar question.

      I personally believe that being learned derives from experience and so does wisdom. A wisdomous person is learned, while not necessarily being educated. Please correct me where you feel am wrong.

      However, I agree, despite all the experience, a person might be devoid of a meaningful life.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Fair comment. And it probably depends on your definitions.

      I would agree that life experience is an essential ingredient to wisdom.

      Is there also a 3rd ‘way of knowing’? So we have learning (intellectual) from what we read and are conventionally ‘taught’; we have what we learn from first-hand experience. In my experience we can also ‘know’ something, as a deep, inner, knowing; through an intuitive consciousness and ability to tune-in to a given situation. This is more of an active knowing, rather than knowledge.

      If anyone is interested, I run an on-line course that compares and contrasts these 3 ‘ways of knowing’: http://bit.ly/how_to_know

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Thank you, I shall definitely have a look at it.



  4. I loved this! Your point of those who obtained degrees are not always educated is on point and relevant. I will be looking forward to reading your other blogs as well.:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I am highly obliged to have had someone read and comment on my first ever blog post.
      You are indeed kind. :)


  5. Education stops and learning is life long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Boringbug says:

      So true. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Deaxiss says:

    hi can you please like this it’s for school purposes
    it’s gonna be a big help for me


    thank youuu

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Boringbug says:

      Sure. Just did. :)


  7. Girma T says:

    Very useful, can you apply this to differentiate the following:
    Climate Change (CC) Education,
    CC Literacy and
    CC Learning


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Boringbug says:

      An intriguing concept. Shall try to connect and differentiate between these three. Btw, climate change is real. :P


  8. Yang Ho says:

    I never thought about this, but it does make sense that literacy is necessary for education. Would it be fallacious to say that the higher the literacy rate, the more educated the people are? (intuition tells me yes)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. boringbug says:

      In layman terms. Yes, it wouldn’t be wrong to contend that literacy contributes in achieving education. But at the end it is a step-stone, a ladder to attain knowledge.

      You see, a mere ability to read an write won’t make you an educated person, let alone a learned person. That is:
      Literacy <Education <Learned.

      For example in the legal field you must have come across the phrase 'Learned Friend', the 'Learned Judge'. Scholars are generally considered learned people, but this is not determined by their ability to read and write.
      In official terms, a state always measures its literacy rate, not the rate of education.
      In India there's a Poet known by the name Kabira. Apparently, he couldn't read and write, but turned out to be a great poet. His poems deal with a lot things, issues and teach you a lot. A mughal emperor named Akbar, was illiterate but he was largely considered as a learned person.
      We have illiterate people who co-founded famous companies, and today can be seen lecturing post-graduate students irrespective of their education qualifications.

      I ask you: What is your State's definition or criteria of a literate?
      For example: The total percentage of the population of an area at a particular time aged 7 years or above who can read and write with understanding. Here the denominator is the population aged seven years or more.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Boring Bug says:

    It stands true for all nations. Whether a third world country or a first world developed nation.
    They often confuse literate with educated.

    Thank you for your input buddy.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Maddy says:

    In our nation words lIke- literate, educated and learned are often corelated. You have very clearly mentioned the diffrence between these.
    School/College degrees are not enough to call a person educated.
    Good writing bro.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Boring Bug says:

    True. Had people been more educated then the phenomenal difference between the male-female sex ratio wouldn't have been there.

    In india, lets take the example of kerala. It has one of the highest literacy rate in india but that doesn't make them educated.

    Being oblivion to the presence of knowledge is not what educated does.


  12. The mere fact that india is producing thousand no of literates but when it comes to “educated”india is far behind
    If literacy denotes educated mass.Than today sex determination thing of a child in womb wouldn't hv been done.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Boring Bug says:

    True! It's an established norm these days. People confuse literates with educated, and educated with learned. Education needs to be redefined.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Vishwa says:

    Agreed…. this is yhe main reason why people run for degrees and are still uneducated.. people comiting crime or hampering the environment are not less in number compared to illiterates… the concept and perception of education needs to be redefined…

    Liked by 1 person

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