Literacy and National Development
--- Guyana Forum for Life-long Learning By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
September 9, 2003

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There is overwhelming agreement among all sections of Guyanese society that illiteracy has reached crisis proportions in the country as evidenced by the significant growth in the number of youths and adults who are illiterate or at least not functionally literate. The Jennings Report (1998) states that "Eighty-nine percent of the out of school youth in Guyana are achieving at a low to moderate level of functional illiteracy." Chapter 20 on the "Education Policy" in the National Development Strategy of Guyana also alludes to the seriousness of the situation. This is further substantiated by the 1999 Situational Analysis of Adult Education in Guyana which indicates that over 40,000 school-age teenagers are either not enrolled or hardly attend school. This Study also suggests that the literacy rate is 60% and falling and shows that the formal education system has not been able to cope with the growing demands for literacy and basic education and the Adult and Non-formal Education (ANE) sector will have to continue to take up the slack for many years.

At least one major adult-learning institution -the Guyana Forum for Life-long Learning (GFLL), considers that the high level of functional illiteracy is a major social disaster that poses a massive block to personal, community and national development. It restricts a valuable and substantial percentage of the population to participate more fully in society thereby effectively blocking development in the country.

There seems to be widespread agreement that the formal education system has not coped in recent decades to meet literacy goals and this failure has placed extensive demands on the adult and non-formal education (ANE) sector, and this will continue for a number of years as the formal school system undergoes substantial reform. It is clearly evident that the Government needs to place more emphasis on this sub-sector to effectively address the high incidence of functional illiteracy, particularly among youth and women.

To date, there is no major consolidated effort to address this crisis on a national scale. Although most adult and non-formal education is provided largely through voluntarism by agencies of civil society, there is no overall government policy on ANE, regulation or information about this sector.

There is no single liaison point on ANE in government to facilitate collaboration and coordination between adult educators and government. Also, there is no system to collect basic data on ANE in Guyana to inform planning and policy development.

The causes of functional illiteracy in Guyana include issues such as:

? High rate of emigration of the best teachers

? Several years of economic hardships at the home and community levels

? Higher percentages of working mothers leading to unsupervised or under-supervised

children as well as school drop outs.

? Widespread and extreme poverty and the problems of affordable and accessible adult and non-formal education have contributed to the intensification of the problem of functional illiteracy.

? The negative and demoralizing impact of the SSEE selection for secondary schooling.

? The high incidence of truancy.

? The necessity of multiple sources of income to meet the high cost of living leading to the high incidence of school dropouts.

? The inability of the formal system of examination and specialized secondary schools to meet literacy goals.

Potential Solutions
An organization such as GFLL, which represents ANE providers who are engaged in meeting the existing need and community demands for literacy and basic education, deems it crucial that in order to eliminate the scourge of illiteracy from our society, it is imperative that two major things be done:

1. A co-ordinated National Literacy Campaign and Program must be launched.

2. The Government needs to work with GFLL and others to develop an ANE policy with priorities and programs of which Literacy will be at the frontline.

As an umbrella association of adult and non-formal education providers across Guyana, GFLL is confident that it can effectively win the support of the Ministry of Education (MoE) through advocacy and is in the best position to lobby government (through the MOE) to formally recognize it as a respected partner. In addition GFLL intends to extend its advocacy beyond the Government of Guyana and include other International Organizations i.e. UNESCO which has a program that caters for illiteracy. GFLL intends to mobilize public opinion and support and to bring together all key stakeholders to accomplish its objectives.

The direct beneficiaries of this project will be primarily illiterate and semi-literate youth, women and their families with the indirect beneficiaries being our communities and society as a whole.

To substantially reduce the level of illiteracy among youth and women by the end of 2010 through the development and implementation of a National Literacy Program.

(i) To complete a Document by September 2003 on a proposed national literacy strategy based on the results of regional conferences and existing data and documents.

(ii) To increase awareness and a sense of urgency about the disastrous effects of illiteracy and to gain commitments from AE providers, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), the Private Sector and other Institutions for a concerted advocacy action for a National Literacy Program.

(iii) To obtain formal recognition from the Permanent Secretary, MoE as a key partner in the development and implementation of national AE programs and to persuade the PS to identify an ANE/Literacy Liaison Officer within the MOE.

(iv) To obtain the commitment of the Secretary General of the Guyana Commission for UNESCO to support GFLL in its literacy campaign and program.

(v) To persuade the Minister of Education to agree to set up a Committee that will develop a National Literacy Program (NLP) and a Plan of Action to implement that program.

Launch a public awareness and education campaign that will be directly linked to

the efforts of the Forum at getting the MoE to agree to implement a National Literacy Program with a focus on women and out- of- school youth, with an emphasis on young men.

A National Forum will be held in Georgetown during this month to bring together Government, ANE providers, the private sector, community organizations and others to discuss the proposed strategy to launch the National Literacy Program and to set up a Committee to develop a NLP and a plan of action to implement this program.

Let us help teach someone to read, write, think and live. The Guyana Forum for Life-long Learning wants your support!