For as long as I have known myself I have always heard that there is a 98 per cent literacy rate in Barbados. That is for sure a lot to be proud of and even brag about, but I was also taught that 100 per cent is best. Even though that may be a huge undertaking, if we are indeed anywhere near the 98 per cent mark I will be very surprised if it is so.
I just don’t believe that the two per cent who are illiterate just happen to be showing up day after day and year after year and we are unable to find some means of educating them. Sometimes I have to wonder if we need to look at the measuring stick we use for literacy and revamp it somehow.
Are we just looking at the ability to read and write your name and say the alphabet and counting from one to ten? Anyone with a good memory will be able to recite certain things to you, but it does not mean they can read and count fluently otherwise.
I say all this for obvious reasons, since recently I have come into contact with a couple of young adults who can barely write their names and cannot count or add to save their lives.
These persons are all former secondary school students who did the common entrance exams and went through the primary school system and in checking did secondary school up to 16 plus years old. How is it that they could get into secondary school, and with what grade did they gain passes?
Was there a moment of throwing the hands up and just assigning them to a school without truly examining the situation they were being presented with and simply using the school as a dumping ground? I am really asking myself if this is possible.
What about the Common Entrance Exam: Is there a huge part of it that is multiple choice questions in both the English and Maths paper? If so, I am asking exactly how much and what percentage of marks is it.
Reason why I am asking this is because I believe that the only way they could gain a pass is to go ticking at random and hopefully getting a certain amount right. I always remembered a friend of mine playing “eenie, meenie, minee, moe” on a test and passing it somehow. I just cannot see any other way they could have passed Common Entrance.
I present my findings based on a simple test I did with one of the young people. I asked them to go bring me an item by name and label and they brought back three different products when I told them they brought the wrong one.
Their excuse was that they did not look at the product label, but in seeing that they brought back a completely distant item from what they were sent for, that raised an alarm. I then took them and asked them to name some other items and products and some of them they named and others they had problems pronouncing.
This led me to show them the identical product with a different label but still carrying the name of the product, only this time it was spelt in bold print. They could not name it at all. The reason is simple – they knew things by memorising the way they looked and from watching others handling them.
Once these items are removed from the original package and relabelled they are at a total lost. I then wrote a simple note with the simplest of words which I asked them to read to me and of course they could not. Words like “my, is, name, cat, dog, fat, and work” presented a huge task for them. I know infants who read better than they do.
Again I ask how it is that they could come through a system that we praise so much and give such high reviews and still cannot do the basics. I wonder if it is a case of teachers just not giving a damn or just don’t know how to deal with the matter or if they happen to be members of a certain class at school known to be pure trouble or just seen as hopeless. If so, then what is the role of the teacher? Unfortunately some of these same persons are not given the chance to develop the basics because they are a product of a similar household and there is no one to point them in the right direction.
When I dig further I find that they are being bullied by other friends and family members for their pay each time and are pushed to foot the bills etc. They could be short changed by anyone paying them or giving them back change at a store and they will never know.
You could get them to sign away their life and they wouldn’t know what they are signing. As long as you can fake a story and say put your name here which they can write, that is it.
This not only saddens me but it angers me the same time. I really don’t think that in the 21st century we should be faced with such. The same way governments are looking at eradicating pit toilets, they need to look at the system and try to eradicate illiteracy.
I make no apology when I say some teachers are just there to collect a salary. I was fortunate or unfortunate to experience such teachers. The ones who would just come to class and say read pages 5 to 15 and disappear only to return and say good evening.
There were also the ones who came to class smelling like a refinery and even had a flask with their brand of coffee, which smelled like Old Brigand or Mount Gay if not Cockspur or Johnny Walker. Whatever it was, we all knew it was alcohol.
Fortunately, all of my teachers were not that way and I thank them for being the way they were with me and others. One way or another we must admit this is a problem we have and we need to sort it out. We can’t just throw our hands up and expect it to fix itself.
Prisons are getting full of some who are in similar positions and we ask why. Aggression is the way some hide their flaws and when they show aggression, no one wants to approach them. They turn to violence as a means of making themselves seem powerful and only end up in jail.
All of this simply because they do not know of any other way to ask for help, and prison now becomes their new school. They also come as quiet and reserved people too, the ones we like to call “simple”, but they are asking for help also and I believe it is not too late for them.
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