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2005-09-01 16:06:17

Adult Illiteracy A Major Problem

The UN Development Report indicated that the literacy rate of Bahamians over the age of 15 years is 95.5 percent, however, the UN considers an individual literate if he or she is able to simply write his or her name.

Imagine the frustration of not being able to read a warning label that could protect your family from possible danger.

According to education officials, that problem is very real for some adult Bahamians despite having graduated from high school.

Clayton Rolle is a hotel worker who is married with one son.

Although he obtained a high school diploma, he said that he still had great difficulty writing work reports because he did not read very well.

His dedicated wife in recognizing that her husband was illiterate offered to assist him in getting help.

Mr. Rolle said one day while visiting the Registrar General's Office to obtain a copy of his child's birth certificate, he saw a sign and was able to figure out that it was advertising the National Literacy Services' Reading Programme.

Putting aside feelings of embarrassment, he copied the number, made the call, and got enrolled.

Mr. Rolle said he now has a new lease on life.

"I can move up on my job now because if you cannot read then you are stagnated on your job," Mr. Rolle said in an interview at the Ministry of Education on Wednesday.

"Now that I can read I can go on and pursue a higher education and a higher level of learning. I am truly grateful because I could not speak in front of people confidently.

"Now that I can read I can move up much higher in life and can finally help my son with his homework. It was a problem for me because I did not even know what the information said on the paper that he was bringing home. Now I can finally help him and the programme has been a plus for me."

The United Nations Development Report indicated that the literacy rate of Bahamians over the age of 15 years is 95.5 percent. But according to Arnett Dorsett, a senior education officer at the ministry, a more detailed study needs to be conducted.

She said that the illiteracy rate among adult Bahamians is actually much higher given that the UN considers an individual literate if he or she is able to simply write his or her name.

Dr. Leon Higgs, director of higher education and lifelong learning, said that adult illiteracy in The Bahamas must be looked at more seriously.

"It is a major problem," Dr. Higgs said. "There are a number of adults in this country [who] cannot read. I believe that it is important that we tackle this particular situation because once a person can read, it opens up a whole new world for [him or her]."

National Literacy Day is celebrated internationally on September 8. On that same date in 1999, the National Literacy Service's Adult Literacy Programme was formed. At present, there is a little more than 100 adults in that programme.

Helen Smith, who also graduated from the programme, said that when her son was in grade four she went to his PTA meeting and told his teacher that he could not read and needed help.

The teacher asked what she was doing to assist him, she said.

Ms. Smith said she did not reply because she knew that she could not read and was unable to assist her own son.

She said she started seeking help for her son, James, because she was determined not to allow her child to grow up like her, "running, dodging, and ducking books".

It was then that Ms. Smith said she made the decision to seek help.

"I came out of school and did not know how to read so I went to look for help for my son," Ms. Smith said. "At first, I gave up on myself because I did not think that I could learn anymore because I was past that stage.

"Going through life was really hard so I did not want to go out anywhere or face anyone because I was very dumb yes I was dumb. But if I can read; anyone can read."

Perez Clarke, The Bahama Journal

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