Reversing the trend of functional illiteracy
Kaieteur News
February 4, 2007

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Some aspects of a budget often set people thinking. The ordinary man in the street always sees the budget as something to fear. Tradition has always been for there to be price increases in budgets. For this reason one would never find the Licence Revenue Depart putting licences on sale.

In most other countries people can be assured that any changes in prices would be those pertaining to housing development, matters of public transport and insurance. Other prices would rise or fall regardless of the budget.

The skeptics would say that Guyana's budget is often long on promises and short on benefits for the worker. This budget speaks a lot about national development with emphasis on health and education. The Finance Minister reported that the drive would begin to ensure 100 per cent in functional literacy.

Two years ago, an Education official reported that more than half of the people graduating from the University of Guyana were functionally illiterate. This has been a problem for some time and continues to be a major source of headache for potential employers.

In the not too distant past, Guyanese prided themselves on their literacy. They always did exceeding well at foreign universities and made the country proud. Because of their literacy they paved the way for others who were seeking admission to those universities.

Literacy was the key and Guyana ruled the roost in the Caribbean. Guyanese were constantly in demand to the extent that the institutions of learning that they attended simply gobbled them up and this country lost.

Not so today. Most can read and write but their ability to interpret whatever they read is sadly lacking. University graduates have difficulty in filling application forms and most perform poorly at interviews.

The reason lies in the education system. No longer are children required to paraphrase and so their ability to explain themselves remains undeveloped. No longer can these young people think on their feet and this is most evident among those who seek a job in the media.

They go to press conferences and are at best only able to repeat what is said to them. They fail to grasp the situation and are gullible. They are in no position to know whether they are being provided with misinformation. They are unaware of what is happening in the society and care even less about what is happening elsewhere.

The Finance Minister says that his government is going to provide money to change all this. The expenditure is large and the mere fact that he has seen it fit to address this issue is testimony to the government's recognition of the extent of functional literacy.

The question, however, is who would be responsible for reversing this trend. Those with the ability have long gone and their absence may very well have been responsible for the rate of functional illiteracy today.

Teachers themselves are victims of this ailment and while they seek to improve their qualifications they try to do so by attaining skills in areas far removed from their profession. To pursue studies in education is often found to be difficult. In fact, things reached the stage where the Cyril Potter College of Education at one time had to lower its entry qualification. It was the same with the University of Guyana.

However the dilemma is to find people who would work to ensure a turn around in the rate of functional literacy.

The first step may rest in a concerted programme to get people to read once more. A vast majority of young people do not read. Most do not even read the newspapers, choosing to garner whatever news they could from the television. The failure to read often leads to an individual forming mental images and this is the key to the issue of functional illiteracy.

The vocabulary of most of the secondary school and university graduates is so poor that one wonders whether in the not too distant future of this country the so-called Queen's language would not be a thing of the past. Already, advertisements reflect the decline in education. ‘It's' is being used to signify the possessive; some ordinary words may very well be from another language and the rate of functional illiteracy increases with each passing day.

We laud the good intentions of the Finance Minister but we do not hold out much hope.