literacy in T&T
Importance of literacy.
of the whole per-son.
National reading policy.
Volunteers needed as tutors and mentors.
in the various aspects of literacy is critical if our
citizens are to achieve their potential, if T&T is
to achieve developed nation status. As Unesco states,
Literacy empowers and nurtures inclusive societies
and contributes to the fair implementation of human rights.
According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics (Literacy
Assessment, April 2006), worldwide, 781 million adults
are illiterate and about 100 million children are out
Recently I went to Alabama in the US to appear on EWTN
Livea TV programme produced by Eternal Word Television
Network. EWTN broadcasts 24-hour Catholic-themed programming
to 118 million homes in 127 countries and 16 territories
on cable, satellite, and low-power TV.
Fr Leonard Alfonso from Barbados was also a guest on the
programme which focused on pro-life issues in the Caribbean.
We were sponsored by Human Life International.
At the end of the live call-in programme we were surrounded
by members of the audience and many commented on our fluency
in English. It reminded me of my early days in the UK
when similar comments were made to me. Yes, English is
The development of literacy is not something that society
should leave to chanceto be imbibed through some
form of osmosis from listening and speaking to others
in ones environment. Children learn language by
being in an environment that calls forth language.
My parents and teachers played a major role in the development
of my literacy skills.
This month is the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VIs
encyclical, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of
Peoples). As Fr Thomas Williams says, the Pope rightly
taught that the Christian idea of progress is not merely
material or technological. It necessarily embraces the
whole human person in his social, moral, cultural and
spiritual dimensions as well. Paul VI wrote:
development we speak of here cannot be restricted to economic
growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded;
it must foster the development of each man and of the
In this encyclical Pope Paul VI refers to illiterate people
as starved spirits. How are we advancing as
a nation? Are we developing effective strategies to develop
the whole personeach man, woman and child? How many
starved spirits roam our streets in T&T?
How many are simply functionally literate with basic skills
of reading and writing.
Fr Williams states that if a society doesnt advance
in goodness, in justice and in love, it doesnt truly
advance. Lent is a good time for us to reflect on the
truth of these words. Is it just that many of our
people remain illiterate and cut off from so much that
life has to offer?
I dont think we have accurate statistics in T&T.
This is an issue with which many countries are grappling.
The National Literacy Act (US) defines literacy as an
individuals ability to read, write, and speak in
English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency
necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve
ones goals, and develop ones knowledge and
Information from the National Institute for Literacy in
the US states that more than 20 per cent of adults
in the USA read at or below a fifth grade levelfar
below the level needed to earn a living wage. The National
Adult Literacy Survey found that over 40 million Americans,
age 16 and older, have significant literacy needs.
Since T&Ts Ministry of Education has designated
2007 as the National Year of Literacy, I was pleased to
read that British Gas T&T is supporting the work of
this ministry by sponsoring 85,000 booksfrom the
series Get Caught Readingto our primary schools.
However, we all know that providing books to schools is
not all that is needed to promote literacy. Inter alia,
we need to develop the ability of our teachers to teach
all aspects of literacy. Each teacher is a teacher of
I note that the ministry is in the process of formulating
a national reading policy and will be expanding implementation
of the Centre of Excellence for Teacher Training (Cett)
literacy model. A progress report on Cett is available
on the Education Discussion Groups Web site: www.educationdiscussiongroup.org.
The expansion of Cett is critical as some of our teachers
do not possess the necessary skills to promote literacy.
When I led a team of teachers in London to promote success
among students of Caribbean origin, my team and I worked
with schools to develop well-designed literacy programmes
which provided students with frequent opportunities to
use language, eg reading, writing, listening and speakingfor
A national reading policy is essential if we are to make
progress. While recognising that there may be different
views where this is concerned, eg reading pedagogy, reading
achievement levels, national reading standards and performance
indicators, it is important that all stakeholders contribute
to shaping this policy.
I am sure that such a policy will take into consideration
the tools that technology offers for effective literacy
instruction. The International Reading Associations
position statement on literacy and technology (2001) explains:
become fully literate in todays world, students
must become proficient in the new literacies of information
and communication technologies. Therefore, literacy educators
have a responsibility to effectively integrate these technologies
into the literacy curriculum.
Although there are numerous examples of individuals who
have achieved great heights in spite of their poor background,
illiteracy of their parents etc, research has shown that
by assisting illiterate/semi-illiterate adults/parents
improve their basic literacy skills, one can improve the
education and quality of life of their children. Illiteracy
negatively impacts on many areas of an individuals
life, eg health, employment, welfare, financial status.
Many children drop out of school or do not attend school
regularly. We must do more to promote literacy in communities.
The Community Information Literacy Project which has recently
been launched at the Tunapuna Public Library is to be
welcomed. I hope that this project, which is run by Nalis
with the support of Unesco, will expand to include other
libraries. Lets invest in our people.
I commend groups such as the Adult Literacy Tutors Association
of T&T (ALTA) (tel: 624 2582) for their commitment
to improve literacy. I urge citizens to offer their services
to groups such as ALTA. Volunteers are always needed.
During the lenten season, commit yourself to plough back
into society some of the expertise that God has give you.
Become a tutor or a mentor.
Members of the business community often complain that
low literacy is adversely affecting their productivity
and profitability. The business community, Rotary and
Lions Clubs etc should sponsor more outreach programmes
and run literacy programmes for their own workers and
their families. Family literacy programmes can be very
Let us raise the level of literacy in T&T to enable
citizens to participate fully in all aspects of society
and to build our nation/world.
Leela Ramdeen is a lawyer
and education consultant