Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Lighting the flame of literacy

Published:Friday | September 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma
Pearnel Charles Jr, minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and chairman of the UNESCO Youth Advisory Committee reads at the UNESCO International Literacy Day celebrations .
Ann Margaret Lim, MC at the UNESCO International Literacy Day, holds the mic for Arianna Wedderburn from Jessie Ripoll Primary School who introduced Senator Pearnel Charles Jr. Behind her is McKenzie Taylor from Our Lady of the Angels Preparatory School.
Dr Opal Palmer Adisa reads from a story book to school children at UNESCO International Literacy Day celebrations.
Tanesha West Carr, youth leader on the Diaspora Advisory Board reads to school children at UNESCO International Literacy Day celebrations.
Dr Amina Blackwood-Meeks engages school children at UNESCO International Literacy Day celebrations.
Lauren Delapena, joint-winner of the Poet Laureate of Jamaica competition, reads a story.
Amitabh Sharma

Being literate, for all of us who are reading these two words, it is basic, simple, and often not a difficult task, but for 750 million adults in this world, these words, or any letter in any language in the world, would be curved and abstract lines.

Literacy, the word is simple, but not being able to read or write, has un complexities in life.

For those of us who are fortunate, it should become a way of life to try and help a fellow human to acquire this basic competence, and feel dignified.

On Friday, September 7, the Institute of Jamaica in downtown Kingston came alive as key stakeholders sat down with schoolchildren engaging them by reading stories, reciting poetry and the spoken word.

On the occasion, Minister of Information, Youth, Sports & Culture Olivia 'Babsy' Grange said: "It seeks to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and the creation of a ... sustainable society."

Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay, in a message read by Secretary- General for the Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO Everton Hannam, said that the organisation remains committed to promoting literacy as a tool for correcting social issues.

This was followed by "Read In", where Pearnel Charles Jr, minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Prof. Mervyn Morris, Amina Blackwood Meeks and Opal Palmer Adissa, among others, had the children in awe.

Charles Jr Read Mi a Story; Opal Palmer Adisa read a short story, Prof Mervin Morris read a selection of poems and engaged the children; and Amina Blackwood Meeks, in Mandor Time, gave the children a taste of the culture.


Issue of encouragement


Beyond this observance, there is a broader issue of encouraging and engaging children and even adults in the habit of reading. This has become especially challenging in the digitalised world where the attention span is being constrained to 280 characters (the pun used taken from Twitter).

Bottom line is that paucity of patience, living the mega life pixels, bytes, hertz has people on overdrive, hardly finding time to sit back, relax, and turn the pages of a book (or even swipe on their choice of smart device).

The key is to start them young and for the adults to set good examples.

"Children will follow what they observe," Charles Jr, who chairman of the UNESCO Youth Advisory Committee, said.

"Hence," he added, "we should read with them and not only tell them to read."

The issue of literacy is a key component of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to UNESCO, despite progress made, literacy challenges persist, and at the same time, the demands for skills required for work evolve rapidly.

"This year's theme ('Literacy and skills development') explores integrated approaches that simultaneously support the development of literacy and skills to ultimately improve people's lives and work and contribute to equitable and sustainable societies," according to UNESCO. "The day focuses on skills and competencies required for employment, careers, and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable skills and digital skills."

In Jamaica, the day was celebrated under the theme "Education Transforms Lives."

September 8 was proclaimed as International Literacy Day by UNESCO at the 14th session of UNESCO's General Conference on October 26, 1966.

This initiative, according UNESCO, was undertaken "to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities, and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies."

It is an opportunity for governments, civil society, and stakeholders to highlight improvements in world literacy rates and to reflect on the world's remaining literacy challenges.

The idea of an International Literacy Day was born at the World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, held in Tehran, Iran, on September 8-19, 1965.The UN's Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in September 2015, promotes, as part of its agenda, universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people's lives. Sustainable Development Goal 4 has as one of its targets ensuring that all young people achieve literacy and numeracy and that adults who lack these skills are given the opportunity to acquire them.

The observance of Literacy Day highlighted the importance of issues that cannot be sidelined, ignored, or be a September 8 occasion. As education, this is a lifetime commitment.

"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity," according to Yehuda Berg, international speaker and author, and he goes on to say ..."Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble."

These words would be more meaningful to someone who could decipher the curved lines on paper, and they can pass these words on to their children - for learning is a flame that should glow constantly and the gift of literacy passed on like that single candle that lights other candles and dispels darkness.