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Literacy as an aspect of your freedom

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Friday, September 8th, 2006 marked World Literacy Day also known as International Literacy Day. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization established International Literacy Day in 1965. It signifies primarily the ongoing commitment of the world community to recognize and support literacy as a key to personal development and to the economic progress of nations.

Literacy can be simply described as the ability to read and write at a basic level. There is no doubt that today it continues to be an imperative key towards opening the door to poverty alleviation and a better standard of living. {{more}} There may very well be a cause for celebration since the world now has four million literate people. However, before we entertain such excitement we must keep alive in our minds that there is a long road ahead, in terms of a world free of illiteracy. The statistics show that 781 million adults, two-thirds of this figure being women, cannot read. Furthermore, in our own communities, according to reports some 16% to 20% of our adult Vincentian population experience difficulty in reading and understanding.

As a nation, more recently, our journey to literacy has been a remarkable one. One marked with great success. Our government is conscious that education is the surest and safest way out of poverty, and has therefore embarked on an educational revolution of which literacy forms one of the many cornerstones. The present Unity Labour Party administration shows that they have assigned priority to literacy through the National Literacy Campaign, improvements in primary education, achievement of universal secondary education for our youths, training for university students and much more. The end results being that many windows of opportunity are pushed open for a wider cross section in our society.

According to the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, in his address on International Literacy Day 2006, “Literacy is important in its own right and it is also widely acknowledged as one of the most powerful tools of development, which makes its relative neglect all the more frustrating.” Literacy is not solely the responsibility of our government. You and I have a part to play in the education revolution. That includes and is not limited to volunteering your time, to invest in homework clubs in your area, reading circles, book reading clubs and other literacy oriented activities and projects. Where are our community libraries? For the educators, you must ensure that those who enroll in our nation’s schools do not graduate as just a part of the statistics and no more. Far too many of our school children graduate and cannot read or write with any sense of efficiency.

By the same token, congratulations are in order, to the many persons who believe in the power of literacy, this group includes teachers, community workers, family members, friends, volunteers and other individuals – who work tirelessly to help others express themselves through literacy. The difference that they make in the lives of those who have a quest for self-development cannot be measured. We must continue to support and appreciate them as we work towards building a St. Vincent and the Grenadines that is free of illiteracy.

The overall theme of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), is “literacy is freedom”. Literacy gives choice, liberty, self-determination and autonomy, which is the foundation of personal development. As we continue in our nation building effort, we must invest more and more in our greatest resource – the people. More money needs to be allocated towards the freedom of the illiterate. According to Mr. Matsuura, “literacy cannot sustain development if it is itself allowed to wither and die through lack of materials.” It is without question that a more educated work force means better employment opportunities, higher levels of earning, higher standard and quality of living, and ultimately, a vibrant body politic for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Socially and culturally, literacy initiates positive changes in the behaviors, role and relationship within the family. For our families that are headed by women, literacy can affect mothers’ attitudes toward their children’s education. It is beyond dispute that literate mothers are more likely to help their children with their homework, to visit their child’s school and to read to their children. In addition, literacy leads to an enhanced quality of life for such families and improved education outcomes for the children. Another benefit of literacy is improved self-image and esteem.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not alone on the journey to full literacy. The Global Monitoring Report on Education for All (2006) shows that primary education enrollment has risen in both Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, with approximately 20 million new students in each region.

In our push ahead as a people, we must ensure that for International Literacy Day 2007 extremely special activities are planned to further market the importance of literacy and life-long learning and to celebrate local literacy achievements. Activities may include community reading festivals, local public figures reading at different locations, book displays and fund raisers, and literacy awareness initiatives that engage the local media, non-governmental organizations, businesses, trade unions and individuals.

Let us all endeavour to enhance the meaning of literacy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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