Book Fair held to spread literacy
Stabroek News
December 5, 2001

The campaign to ensure the spread of literacy is on, as was evident in the recently held Book Fair sponsored by the Guyana Book Foundation (GBF).

The event saw participation by the Ministry of Education through the National Centre for Education and Research Development (NCERD), School of the Nations, Iwokrama, Austin's Book Store, the University of Guyana Library and Stabroek News, in addition to the GBF.

Presenting the feature address at the event, held in the Rupununi Room of the Hotel Tower on Main Street last Thursday, poet and writer, Dr Ian McDonald pointed out that its purpose was to promote the importance of literacy, encourage wider access to books and inspire love for reading which are all significant to citizens' lives.

Recalling that a survey conducted sometime last year involving nine, ten and 11 year olds had revealed that 36% of them encountered difficulty recognising two- and three-letter words, McDonald stressed that absolute priority must be given to correcting this state of affairs.

"Let me say that it is so vital for any country to remember that societies suffering from low levels of literacy are voiceless, powerless, and culturally oppressed. They are worse off in terms of life expectation, infancy mortality, nutrition, health services and income per capita," he declared.

McDonald remarked that higher literacy levels will contribute to improved performance by the workforce and enhanced national standards. "I guarantee [that] all the top students in Common Entrance, CXC and Advanced Level examinations and at university are good readers and love books," he stated.

The writer noted that television had come to replace the book as the means through which children pick up information, obtain mental stimulation and form ideas, and opined that this could result in a "catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions."

In conclusion, McDonald said that the promotion of the Book Fair by the GBF should be regarded as a pioneering effort which will be remembered.

`On the Wings of Words - A New Look at Literacy', from which approximately 8,000 children and nearly 1,800 trained tutors have benefited was available at the School of the Nations booth. The project is run by the Varqua group and is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the GBF, the International Bahai Community (IBC) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The Iwokrama booth displayed material on the environment and Wildlife Management, malaria and AIDS.

In a brief history detailing the work of the GBF, Programme Director at the Canadian Executive Services Organisations (CESO) International Services, Dr Leslie Chin, stated that the non-profit body had reached 24 community libraries, 276 schools, 25 educational institutions and over 80,000 children. According to Dr Chin, the library has also held seven library training workshops educating a total of 53 library assistants over the last 18 months. In collaboration with Varqa and the CIDA Gender Equity Fund, GBF held three workshops earlier this year, to inculcate reading skills in Wakenaam, the Essequibo Coast and Georgetown. He added that the body recently signed its third project agreement with a supplier in order to continue its work throughout Guyana.

The book fair featured literary work by several local and Caribbean writers including economist Dr Clive Thomas, winners of the Guyana Prize, Wilson Harris and Fred d'Aguiar, and saw the presence of students from the School of the Nations and Bishops' High, as well as writer of children's stories and former president, Janet Jagan.