Our Readers' Opinions
December 11, 2009
Functional Illiteracy and the Constitutional Debate

by Nilio Gumbs 11.DEC.09

The constitutional dust has settled and we are back to our daily routine in life. However, some introspection must be done not only in assessing the fall out from the referendum defeat but the shortcoming of the populace in conceptualizing what is a referendum and the issue or issues involved in voting in such.{{more}}

It cannot be denied that most people did not understand the very debate surrounding the details of the constitution.

In the age of talk shows, cable television and the Internet, the level of conversation and concerns raised by people about the referendum leaves one dumbfounded and wondering about the state of education and level of functional literacy in this country.

Thirty some years ago, the Labour administration used communist scare tactics effectively to distort the masses minds against progressive forces who were fighting against social injustice.

Today the same tactics were again used and were very successful in defeating constitutional reform process.

This is not to condemn any group or party for doing such, because that is all part of the game politics, and would have been used by any one if they were on the opposing side.

However, the majority of the populace succumbing to such tactics should serve to remind us of how much or if any progress has been made in raising the consciousness and level of debate and understanding of the masses in such a process or in any normal discourse.

It is incomprehensible to hear the questions being asked: Does the government want to remove the Queen’s head from the dollar or does the Prime Minister want to become a president? Is it true if you have two cars they will take away one? The most surprising of all is when people felt the Opposition Leader was going to be sworn in the next day after the referendum!!

What is frightening is that many of these people who share these beliefs are in their late 20’s and early 30’s, hence one would have assumed that they would have had a secondary level education and be able to comprehend even at a layman’s level.

In trying to contextualize everything that transcended, one cannot ignore the Fordham Report, which noted that in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, the illiteracy rate was between 40 and 50 per cent in 1975. In 2002, the most recent survey, it was reported at 17 percent.

It must be noted that these surveys speak about literacy and not functional literacy, the ability to read and fully understand.

The Education Revolution is only 5 years in motion and will take more time to have any dramatic effect on literacy and the comprehension level of the masses in this country. However, to the contrary, some have argued that the Education Revolution has enlightened many and politicians can’t trick them again.

We are the product of the education system and the low level of debate and gullibility is possibly an indictment on the education system.

We had free primary education in government schools since 1926 and secondary education since 1975, yet this is where we are at.

It is inevitable that a new approach to education is required. As noted by Franz Fannon, there is a need to provide the native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern (rather than traditional) and anti-colonial (not simply an extension of the culture of the colonizer).

Many senior administrators in this country with a praxis of colonial thought and reactionary thinking cannot see the virtue in such arguments because they are comfortable in perpetuating an elitist system which translates itself into a classist society with a furtherance of such by their offspring.

The 1970’s and early 80’s was a period of heightened conscious among many youths which is not seen today despite access to the Internet and Cable Television. Why is this not the case today?

This morbid state of social consciousness and awareness exists among the masses because our political parties have also failed in this in and other ways to educate the populace. Election rallies in the 1970’s to the 90’s saw politicians discussing issues of the day to convince voters. Today such rallies are BLOCK-Os, with the musical artistes being the main pull and campaigner in seeking to convince voters.

How can we as a people and a nation move forward and create our own political, socio-economic space internationally to further development imperatives in such a state of educational atrophy?

The intensity of the debate we witnessed by our politicians, commentators and columnists – part of the small educated elite can and should now be channeled in to educating and lifting the consciousness of the masses so they can grasp any future constitutional debate laid before them.