A tribune for literacy
April 13, 2004
WHEN GUYANA and the rest of the world commemorated International Literacy Day on September 8 last year, an Education Ministry official said Cabinet was considering a financial allocation for the ministry that would allow for intensified focus on combating illiteracy.
Guyana used to boast that 98 to 99 percent of its populace was literate. The goal is to regain ground lost to the unwise decision in the 1980s for insignificant emphasis to be placed on subjects such as grammar and literature.
It was heartening to hear from the Minister of Education last week that the 2004 budget provides for the establishment, re-stocking or expansion of school libraries, for the acquisition of more than a billion dollars' worth of textbooks, for the setting up of pro-literacy clubs, and for teacher training to focus increasingly on literacy.
These provisions couldn't come sooner. For people who don't like to read or for whom reading isn't hobby, the word "literacy" doesn't mean much.
Yet the importance of being literate beyond knowing how to say one's name, count one's income and shop on one's own cannot be overemphasized.
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 citizenries to read, to discern right and wrong and to make wise, intelligent decisions.
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 already 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 learning 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 and should, of course, be intensified. Parents, too, must participate in the process in a more meaningful manner, because increasing literacy to the levels the Education Ministry projects requires their involvement as much as it does the country's public and private school systems. Parents must make reading and whatever else makes up the package of literacy a family affair.
Our return to this subject underlines our interest in seeing all Guyanese, in particular our young, rate high on the literacy scale, once again numbering among the best, if not being named once again the best, in the Caribbean.