By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
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“Literacy is the skill that unlocks the gates of opportunity and success” —Barack Obama. As we celebrate the achievements of those who gained the 376 CAPE (formerly A’ Levels) scholarships this year, let us not forget those who continue to live in the ‘dark’ because they are either illiterate or functionally illiterate.
In August, Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Registrar, Glenroy Cumberbatch, said that about 11,000 pupils across the region who wrote the CSEC Exam (formerly O’ Levels) last May/June got no passes. I wonder how many face literacy challenges?
Victor Hugo was right when he said: “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” The Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) says that in T&T “22-23% of our people aged 15 and over is unable to cope with everyday reading and writing. That’s almost 1 in 4 ‘Trinbagonians’ who are not literate. These statistics were the results of a 1994 ALTA and 1995 UWI National Literacy Survey… According to these two surveys, at best, our literacy rate stood at 78% in 1995 with some 180,000 adults unable to cope with everyday basic reading and writing…Although these surveys were done over a decade ago, it is highly unlikely that a survey today would reveal any positive change.”
Thank God for the yeoman service of those who work in organisations such as ALTA and Mums for Literacy. Let us play our part, too, in promoting literacy.
Our vision for the kind of democratic society we wish to build must include a desire to have literate citizens; citizens who have equal opportunities to realise their potential. Blessed Pope Paul VI reminded us in his encyclical, On the Development of Peoples, 35, that “lack of education is as serious as lack of food; the illiterate person is a starved spirit.”
Pope St John Paul II has said: “This terrible affliction [illiteracy] helps to keep vast multitudes of people in a state of underdevelopment, with all the scandalous misery which that brings…where there is illiteracy there is …humiliation, exploitation and all kinds of suffering…
A person who can neither read nor write finds great difficulties in making use of modern work methods; he is as it were condemned to be ignorant of his rights and duties; he is truly poor. We must realize that hundreds of millions of adults are illiterate, that tens of millions of children cannot go to school, either because there is no school nearby or because poverty prevents them from attending. They are stunted precisely when their lives should be blossoming and are prevented from exercising their fundamental rights. This is the human throng which reaches out to us, asking us for a gesture of brotherhood…
Literacy allows the person to develop his possibilities, to broaden his talents, to enrich his relationships… In our time, can we not say that to work for literacy is to contribute to the building up of communion in real and active brotherly love?”
Literacy can transform lives; it can empower our people to become innovative, critical thinkers and boost creativity as we seek to build a knowledge-based society.
Our national ICT (Information and Communications Technology) vision is to create: “A dynamic knowledge-based society, driven by the innovative use of ICTs to enhance the social, economic and cultural development of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.” Those in our society who are illiterate will be excluded from this vision.
The writer, Bradley Blakeman rightly states: “A free society wants its citizenry to be literate and contributing. Literacy is the key that opens many doors and …we cannot rest until every man, woman and child who are able can read and write… A literate society is an informed and engaged society.”
Happy Divali to our Hindu brothers and sisters on Tuesday. Divali provides us with an opportunity for a true “culture of encounter”. May we all be guided from darkness to light and move forward in love, peace and harmony.
As Pope Francis said: “…for inter-religious dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions… if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common. New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and indeed friendship…the fostering of… unity is a noble task which is incumbent upon all who have at heart the good of the nation, and indeed the whole human family.”