R. Rose
January 28, 2005
Let literacy campaign uplift the society

Almost a half of century ago I first came across the word “crusade”.

In those days youngsters like myself who had the fortune of being introduced to reading as a hobby (by my mother in my case), were fortunate to have had in circulation a fairly wide range of comics and classics which not only dealt with comical issues but more serious and relevant ones, in sport and history for instance. {{more}} In that sense even though the society as a whole was far more underdeveloped and “backward”, we perhaps had greater depth in choice than the students and pupils of today.

It was via that medium that I first learnt of the Christian Crusades of the 11th – 13th centuries with a romantic version of the courage of the English King Richard I, called the “Lion Hearted” and his supposed deeds of valour in trying to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from its Muslim occupiers. It is significant to note that the literature about the crusades referred to the Muslims as “infidels”. In the dictionary, infidel is defined as “one who is not Christian or opposes Christianity”, “an unbeliever”, and there has been this connotation of infidel as being someone bad or evil. When you connect that with Muslim, then you can understand some of today’s prejudicial attitudes towards that faith and its adherents.

A decade or so passed before I began to get a different view of the crusades. Reading exposed me to a more balanced perspective of the European invasion of the Middle East. Since then I have developed somewhat of a distaste for the term “crusade”, a word which in English is defined as “a remedial enterprise undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm”.

Having said all of this, though, I must admit that I can’t help but be enthused over the Ministry of Education’s planned “Literacy Crusade”. Call it what you like it is a long overdue initiative particularly needed, not just in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but the entire Caribbean as well. Official statistics tell us that we are not doing too badly where adult literacy is concerned, 80 per cent out of every 100 adults being classified as literate. But these people who could read and write when they left school have great difficulty to do so today because of disuse.

More importantly, as I understand it, the campaign is not just about being able to read and write. It is all about what is called “functional literacy”, being able to use those skills in everyday life. Many persons who can read and write lack confidence to even fill out a simple form (immigration for example) by themselves. So the campaign must focus on developing our human resource capacity. In the age of computers, being functionally illiterate places one at a tremendous disadvantage.

Hence the literacy campaign must be sweeping. We need to explain and let people know that it is not being illiterate that is a crime; it is doing nothing about it. And since we live in a very sensitive society where those who can read but may not necessarily be functionally literate may feel insulted if you invite them to join a literacy campaign, then creative ways and means have to be found to woo them to participate in the drive.

We must be able to demonstrate that being involved will in fact increase access to information and enhance one’s ability to get by in the world. We must point out that it will also develop the capacity to think more rationally, that it will make you more employable and thereby, better able to earn a living. The literacy campaign can be a tremendous boost to productivity and production. In agriculture for instance it allows workers and farmers to get increased access to information and knowledge, so crucial to development. It enables one to get a better understanding and appreciation of the need for standards and quality in goods and services produced. It will lead to enhancing the ability to work out cost of production and thereby profit margins, enabling farmers for instance to maximize market opportunities.

The campaign should also be broadened. We have a number of excellent tradesmen, for instance, whose level of functional literacy does not allow them to do proper estimates or anything beyond the most basic calculations. The mathematical component of the campaign is sure to help them in this regard.

Finally the campaign must be sufficiently broad-based to lift the entire society. So why not, for instance, maybe not in Phase I, but as part of the thrust including economic, trade and environmental literacy? We can’t lose in doing so.