Oftentimes we speak about improving literacy, yet targeted interventions to support literacy in many educational institutions are hijacked by the politics of education. In the long term, both the students and indeed the society suffer the consequences.
Literacy ignites creativity and desire. It is that springboard that must propel all students in order for them to navigate their educational journey successfully. Regrettably, without the tools of literacy, one is imprisoned and those around are also serving this sentence. Literacy is a potent tool to eradicate generational poverty and also serves as a vehicle for social progress and sustainable development.
Unfortunately many societies do not invest as much in literacy skills as they ought to. The Global South oftentimes is burdened by debt repayment to multinational lending agencies which cuts into the budget that should be set aside as an investment in education.
The statistics paints a damning picture. Globally, despite the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women. According to the 2015 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in Jamaica, more than 161,000 males and close to 74,000 females, over the age of 15, lack basic reading and writing skills, making Jamaica's adult literacy rate 88.1 per cent.
The Report of the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission (JETC), chaired by Professor Orlando Patterson, stated that most students at the primary level are barely literate. According to the JETC, the 2019 Primary Exit Profile (PEP) examinations revealed that 33 per cent of students cannot read or can barely do so; 56 per cent of students cannot write or can barely do so; and 58 per cent of students cannot, or can barely, find information on a topic. These numbers produced by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) serve as a stark reminder of the work ahead to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially target 4.6, to ensure that all youth and most adults achieve literacy and numeracy by 2030.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a vital part of our daily lives. AI literacy is a multifaceted concept that goes beyond a mere understanding of AI technologies.
At its core, AI literacy involves the acquisition of the skills and competencies required to use AI technologies and applications effectively. As it continues to permeate every facet of our existence, a new form of literacy has emerged as a necessity. AI literacy is not about turning everyone into an AI specialist, it is about empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills to understand, use, and interact with AI responsibly and effectively.
Manifestations of Literacy
The meaning of literacy is the ability to read and write. According to Socratica Foundation, literacy has been deemed one of the strongest predictors of individual success, and it allows people to finish schooling and secure jobs all around the world. Literacy also has the power to impact individual well-being and increases life satisfaction.
The meaning of literacy quickly transforms into something more complex when we consider how its meaning changes from one culture to the next. In other words, being literate in one culture does not necessarily mean you are literate in another. Why is this? Because different cultures speak different languages, use different writing systems, and hold different values and practices.
In order to capture a well-rounded definition of literacy, anthropologists have begun to examine what literacy looks like in different cultures around the world. Anthropologists reason that literacy is a way of thinking which is deeply intertwined with both social and cultural practices around the world. In other words, we must study literacy "in context" and remember that literacy depends on the culture in which we are examining it.
Our understanding of literacy is transformed when evaluated from an anthropological perspective. It becomes clear that literacy is not the same all around the world but rather a skill set that varies from culture to culture.
Call to Action
There are concerns that with so many schools having poor ventilation and cooling systems in the classrooms, students could face heat stress that may have calamitous consequences. There is clearly a link between climate change and how we view literacy in the traditional classroom. In a recent interview a well-known architect noted that a lot of the schools in Jamaica were built without taking into consideration the impact of climate change.
Needless to say, much more work is needed to tackle illiteracy. International Literacy Day is the day that has been dedicated to reminding world leaders, influencers, and the general public of the current status of adult literacy and learning.
One of the first things beginner readers learn is to associate letters with the sounds they represent. This process is known as "decoding" and is the opposite of "encoding" or spelling. In order for a reader to successfully decode a word, a number of things must happen. He or she needs to recognise the letters of the alphabet, know which sounds they represent, understand how to break words down into their component sounds, and then bring all of this information together.
It is always going to be challenging for adults to return to school to acquire or sharpen his or her literacy skills. Many adults are trying to cope with the daily struggles of life. Additionally, in many societies the learning space is rather judgemental and, therefore, not conducive to teaching and learning.
We ought not to disregard the discrimination and stigma those who are illiterate face in the society. Not only is Jamaica's literacy rate concerning, the society also has an intolerable crime rate. It should be noted that many of those who run afoul of the law have low levels of literacy. These individuals, mainly young men, provide a ready source for recruiters to join various gangs. A society cannot progress and achieve sustainable development with high levels of illiteracy.
The time to revisit the nation's education system is now. It cannot be that so many students are passing through the school system and leaving as functionally illiterate. A distinction must be made at this point. Functional illiteracy is different from illiteracy. Adults who are functionally illiterate have limited reading and writing ability, whereas a person who is illiterate has never been taught how to read and write.
More investment in literacy is needed, especially at the early childhood and primary levels of the education system. Literacy specialists should be deployed at all levels of the education system. The foundation levels are where the greatest needs are and as such more resources, both human and financial, are required.
Additionally, our boys need to realise that real men read. But, sadly, the present culture is one in which boys who display smarts are often ridiculed as effeminate by peers and even adults in areas where male academic excellence is typically devalued. Unfortunately, the current education system is not very attractive to male educators due to low remuneration and hostile working conditions.
More reading clubs should be encouraged in our schools. More collaboration should be sought between various stakeholders, such as parents and guardians, to see how best they can assist in fostering a culture of reading in our educational institutions and homes.
Let us strive to work towards creating a safe and judgement-free learning environment in which students can expose their vulnerabilities and teachers can assist in correcting these challenges.
In the words of Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the UN, "Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty and a building block of development."
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.