Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Reading, writing, worrying - JFLL targets 235,000 illiterate Jamaicans

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2016 | 1:03 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

There are approximately 235,000 Jamaican adults who will not be able to read this story.

These adults are unable to read with understanding or write a short simple statement in their everyday life, despite efforts by government and non-governmental organisations to improve the country’s literacy rate.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 2015 country profile of Jamaica, more than 161,000 males and close to 74,000 females who are over the age of 15 lack basic reading and writing skills.

Jamaica’s current adult literacy rate is 88 per cent, which is slightly lower than the average adult literacy rate for the Caribbean which is 92 per cent.

In an effort to improve the country’s literacy rate, the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) hopes to enrol at least 10,000 adult learners into its 28 adult education centres and more than 50 volunteer centres island wide by 2017-2018.

The JFLL is the government agency that has been tasked with improving adult and youth learning and lifelong learning from basic literacy to the secondary level.

“That will be our target, but right now, we want to surpass that because there are so many persons out there that need our services,” noted executive director Worrel Hibbert in reference to the organisation’s 2017-2018 target.

“JFLL intends to be a part of social transformation in Jamaica as its predecessor JAMAL, by impacting one learner at a time,” he assured.

But despite his optimism, Hibbert believes the stigma attached to illiteracy in the country has made it a bit more challenging to improve Jamaica’s literacy rate. Added to this is the fact that improving adult literacy is a very expensive venture.

“You still have adults who are afraid to come out and admit that they are unable to read and write,” said Hibbert.

Some of those who are really in need of intervention are also unwilling to risk their jobs in order to improve their literacy levels.
“With limited access to employment, our learners are often faced with economic challenges that affect their ability to attend classes, and ironically, economic opportunity sometimes forces them to curtail learning in favour of earning,” added Hibbert.

In order to combat this challenge, the JFLL has been offering evening classes, so that individuals can keep their jobs and still improve their educational standing.

The executive director believes the reason for the country’s less that 100 per cent literacy rate includes, teenage pregnancy and poverty which forces some persons to drop out of school from very early. After dropping out of school, their main focus is often to earn a living.

“The truth is that those who are working need academic strengthening.  All the time we say to them, keep your job, but come,” he said.

Hibbert said that for those unable to read and write, looking at simple sentences is akin to a literate Jamaican being asked to read Chinese for example without having extensive lessons.

  Unfortunately, he finds that not everyone is sympathetic to those who are illiterate and this further affects their confidence.

“People need to recognise that we are not all at the same literacy level,” admonished Hibbert who noted that the JFLL programme has a life skill component which teaches adult learners how to navigate a society where you have to know how to read and write.

The JFLL hopes to partner with more churches, civic groups and work places this year to expand its capacity. Several special projects have already been implemented and the Universal Service Fund had also invested $19 million into improving the physical state of the JFLL learning facilities to create a more comfortable environment for learners.


Reported adult literacy rates in the Caribbean
Cuba- 99%
Antigua and Barbuda 98% (for 2013)
Cayman Islands 98% (for 2007)

Trinidad and Tobago- 98%
Guyana - 88%
Jamaica - 88%
Belize - 82%
Haiti- 60%

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com