One would have thought in this modern era with all the remarkable scientific and technological advancements achieved we would have solved the nagging problem of illiteracy. Unfortunately, the facts and statistics tell a far different and shocking story about global illiteracy.
Amanda Credaro, reveals some stunning information in the article – ATAXIA IN THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS;
“A few short years ago, the world was quite rightly shocked at UNESCO’s announcement that there were 900 million illiterates in developing countries, representing nearly 25 per cent of the world’s youth and adults. The National Institute for Literacy (NIL) sympathised, lamenting that more than 113 million children around the world have no access to primary education.”
But the problem of illiteracy is not restricted to poor countries but surprisingly is very prevalent in some of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Credaro point out, “Largely ignored was the fact that nearly a quarter of 16 to 65-year-olds in the world’s richest countries are functionally illiterate. However, the NIL proclaimed there is virtually no adult illiteracy in the USA. Yet, the most recent National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) found that four percent of [American] adults could not perform even the simplest literacy tasks on the survey; a contention that is supported by the Central Intelligence Agency in their online World Fact Book.”
But what is the underlying cause of high levels of illiteracy.
The answer to this question is not as simple and straightforward since several factors, some of which are intertwined, are responsible, and these include, poverty, socio-economic development, culture and tradition, lack of library facilities, and poor education systems among others.
However, research has shown that there are some definite paths that could be followed in the fight against illiteracy.
Credaro, further stated in her article, “Of the last decade, McGill University’s Helen Amoriggi comments that while printing and publishing technology has galloped forward, churning out millions of words per second, the “human reading rate has remained the same since the days of Sheng Pi and Gutenberg”.
“Ultimately, it would appear that the solution to the global literacy problem is most easily solved by providing adequate funding support for school and other libraries. Given the skill, training and experience of library staff, it is self-evident that library professionals are ideally placed to provide user-friendly access to high quality, high interest reading material for their unique sets of clientele.”
“Although Library Science may not be rocket science, only a fraction of the funding that is expended on space exploration is required to make a massive leap forward to improve the quality of life and cultural implications of citizenship”.
Here in Guyana, illiteracy is a primary concern, even though in the 1960s we boasted the highest literacy rate in the English-speaking Caribbean. Unfortunately, because of a sharp decline in the education system coupled with political and economic mismanagement which took a foot hold from the 1970’s, the illiteracy levels dipped sharply.
However, in recent years strenuous efforts have been made to improve our education standards and increase literacy levels. Although much has been achieved, we still have a far way to go.
In this context, the recent announcement by Education Minister Shaik Baksh that a Unit will be set up to coordinate literacy programmes is indeed a worthwhile move and a step in the right direction.
According to the Minister, the unit will be tasked with guiding efforts and approaches to achieve the literacy benchmarks outlined in his ministry’s five- year strategic plan.
However, it should be noted that this problem cannot be resolved by the efforts of the Education Ministry alone but rather through the collective efforts of our entire society. This point was aptly made by the Minister during the recent public discourse on literacy when he said ,” while literacy is an area of concern, the problem can only be properly addressed if all stakeholders put their shoulders to the wheel”.