Literacy - where it all begins
Guyana Chronicle
August 2, 2003

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IN little over a month from now, Sept. 8 to be precise, Guyana and the rest of the world will be commemorating International Literacy Day.

For people who don't like to read or for whom reading isn't a hobby, the word "literacy" doesn't mean much.

Yet the importance of being literate beyond knowing how to say one's name and count one's income cannot ever be underscored and overemphasized by our policymakers.

In launching International Literacy Decade 2003 - 2012 in January, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged stepped up efforts to close the education gap, which he called "a fundamental inequality in our globalizing world."

Guyana and other members of the United Nations agreed to the implementation of International Literacy Decade because they realized that the achievement of individual and national goals hinged on the ability of their citizenry to read, to discern right and wrong and to make wise decisions.

As a consequence, the UN family agreed to energize work towards the goal of increasing literacy levels by 50 per cent by the year 2015.

Why literacy? By expert accounts, literacy involves a complex set of abilities to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture for personal, community and national development.

It's gratifying that literacy accounts for a very significant percentage of the Education Ministry's 2003 - 2007 strategic plan. The plan envisions giving individuals life-long learning opportunities to move along a continuum that includes reading, writing, and the critical understanding and decision-making abilities they'll need in order to be a potent force in their communities.

But literacy is much more than reading, writing, and numeracy. It is the ability to understand and use printed information in all kinds of daily activities. Literacy touches almost every aspect of people's lives. "It is key to personal development and economic opportunity and a major factor in people's ability to participate as full and active citizens in all areas of society," emphasizes a Canadian educator. "Our literacy levels are linked to our quality of life, employment, health and self-esteem."

Initiatives by non-governmental organizations are very welcome.

Even so, increasing literacy to the levels the Education Ministry projects requires the involvement not only of the public and private school systems but also of parents. Parents must make reading in particular a family affair.

What educators refer to as "family literacy" can help lay the foundation for a lifelong love of reading and writing among children. Parents can encourage literacy skills by setting a positive example and by reading to their children daily.

As the ministry's analysis of the education sector points out, Guyana's education system once rated the best in the Caribbean. "Today, it is considered one of the weakest, although some recovery has been achieved in the last few years."

We believe we're on our way back to the top. And what better way to achieve that feat than to give greater priority to literacy! It's from there that the upward spiral ought to begin.

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