Saint Lucians don’t read nearly enough! How many times have you heard those damning last four words in my opening sentence? How many times have the words flown out of your own mouth? Newspaper publishers and booksellers are only too familiar with the regrettable truth. Teachers too. There is hardly a parent-teacher conference at which school personnel did not regret the lack of resources by which to encourage literacy.
But before we acknowledge our country is generally illiterate, or that our children simply have no desire to read, it’s important first to know what we mean by literacy and its importance in our daily lives. The most recent definition of literacy in the most basic sense is: ‘The ability to read and write’. This definition was handed down in the late 1900s.
According to UNESCO’s 2006 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, under the chapter ‘Understandings of Literacy’, there are various ways people identify the skill. “ . . . literacy as a concept has proved to be both complex and dynamic, continuing to be interpreted and defined in a multiplicity of ways. People’s notions of what it means to be literate or illiterate are influenced by academic research, institutional agendas, national context, cultural values and personal experiences.” This has over the years caused disagreements between scholars, some of whom viewed literacy as being familiar with literature or well educated, while others believed that literacy leaned more to the present day meaning.
Either way, in the digital age the meaning of literacy has evolved as much as technology has advanced. Teaching literacy today demands the ability to interpret and access information through the World Wide Web and to communicate effectively in the technologically advanced global village. Technology opens as many doors as do reading skills today.
In 1966 the United Nations deemed September 8 International Literacy Day (ILD). This year’s theme is ‘Literacy in a Digital World’. International Literacy Day is a global celebration where member states of UNESCO “remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies”.
This newspaper relies on both meanings of literacy. Over the years the company has adapted to the digital agenda of dispensing information at the speed of our readers’ desire, making the theme ‘Literacy in a Digital World’ all the more relatable.
This reporter could hardly wait to hear from the education ministry how Saint Lucia would be marking International Literacy Day. Unfortunately no scheduled activity could be sourced. I enquired about statistics on Saint Lucia’s literacy but discovered that the last scheduled literacy survey was set for 2009. It never actually occurred due to funds being reallocated by the day’s government. I was unable to establish when the last literacy survey was undertaken, let alone the result.
I finally resorted to Google, only to discover that Saint Lucia is one of the few member states with no literacy statistics recorded by UNESCO. Which begs the questions: How does the Ministry of Education pinpoint the rate of literacy in Saint Lucia? How to address groups affected by illiteracy? Literacy programmes and activities have been hosted all over the country by governmental organisations like National Enrichment and Learning Unit, by non-governmental/not-for-profit organisations such as Hands Across the Sea and by business foundations, one of which is Children’s Literacy Action Project—for which Sandals hosted fundraisers.
But in our present digital atmosphere where the dynamic of literacy has evolved in just a few years, these efforts may not be enough. How do we know who is missing out or which students are struggling in their classrooms? If no literacy research is undertaken, how can teachers be equipped with the appropriate resources? They may need more than books, a chalkboard and desk. In the new digital world it should be a simple matter finding out why Saint Lucians don’t read!