Building a literate society
Special Features
September 7, 2007

Building a literate society

by John Zan George 07.SEP.07

“Literacy is the ability to read and /or write simple statements in either a national or indigenous language” (UNESCO 2006). Numeracy, “the concept of dealing with number calculation,” is generally understood as a complement to or a component of literacy.{{more}}

What, therefore, are factors that keep over eight hundred million (800,000,000) persons of a world population of about six and a half billion from acquiring the skills of reading and writing? Why is literacy not only an individual concern but also a communal phenomenon? What steps can be taken to reduce the incidence of “literate challenged” persons in our society?


Some cultural practices make it difficult for some groups in society to be exposed to learning. Statistics show that, worldwide, there are more literate males than females. This has come about because some traditional beliefs have prevented girls in many cultures from going to school. On the world horizon, only eighty eight (88%) percent of adult women are considered literate to every one hundred (100%) adult men. However, this worldwide situation does not hold true for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A national literacy survey conducted by the Adult Education Unit in 2002 showed that women outnumbered males as being the more literate sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I suspect this situation holds true for most English speaking Caribbean countries.


Why is the situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines not a reflection of what happens on the world stage? Several reasons can be attributed to this phenomenon:

A deliberate and meticulous introduction of “women friendly” bodies and programmes in the seventies and eighties that created an imbalance in the educational eco-system.

The traditional practice of sheltering young girls, while leaving boys to conquer the community. This has caused males to concentrate on survival skills. This robs them of their childhood and the temperament to appreciate the virtue of educational pursuits. In some cases, they gravitate towards a mentality that portrays a “quick buck” syndrome.

Further, a female dominated educational environment has not maximally explored the science of teaching to the peculiarities of boys. Many natural male characteristics seem to create conflict and are seen as mal-adjustments by the status quo.

Doctrinal teaching, coupled with broader societal expectations, has created a psychological culture, which tells boys that they are born leaders and providers. A role males feel can be achieved without exposure to any controlled Educational pursuit.


The most effective way of creating a literate society is formal schooling. A policy that encourages universal access to structured teaching learning environments, coupled with initiatives to encourage the wider society to develop a literate culture in homes, workplaces and generally every where socialization takes place, will help. The business of literacy should not be seen as a purely individual concern. A nation must be cognizant that there is a strong correlation between poverty levels and literacy levels. Low levels of functional literacy in a country is a recipe for poverty and its attendant impediments, while the reverse is a cocktail for wealth creation and prosperity. The family unit should ensure that members develop a learning attitude, a task that religious and other social groupings should adopt. As a society, we should be accepting New Models for persons to express themselves. Catering for the diverse nature of all will embolden the participation of more persons, including persons who are “literate challenged”. Stigmatization and other discriminatory practices will then be lessened, paving the way for the acceptance of the notion that “illiteracy is not ignorance” For example,the present reshaping of our Constitution gives us a splendid opportunity to enshrine some legal instrument that will address the notion that “literacy is a basic human right and a key to other rights.” Another imperative is that every Vincentian should become part of the solution, if meaningful success is to be achieved.


The cultural and contextual dimension impacts on our functional literacy level. You can be functionally literate today in one environment and functionally illiterate tomorrow in another environment. What, therefore, is your role in this noble ideal of universal literacy? You can become a learner, a facilitator and /or a motivator. These are roles that you as an individual can find yourself interchanging from time to time as the circumstances present themselves.

The ideal national landscape that will encourage the building of a total literate society must be one where national policy must be enunciated on areas such as the productive manipulation of information through the use of technology, media practices’ stipulations and standards, national library services, home friendly book culture, and public and private partnership just to name a few.

The building of a literate society should be seen as a vital human resource investment. It is the foundation on which all other learning is built. Literacy is more than acquiring the basic skills needed to read and write. We must recognize that every person is a source of knowledge and understanding. Illiteracy should not be equated with ignorance.

In its purest sense creating a literate society means giving persons the resource to develop their individual capacity. It is not a matter of one treatment fits all.

It also fosters the attitude which promotes life-long learning, a needed trait which ensures that our nation stays on the cutting edge of world affairs and technology.