Letters to the Editor: Literacy is a human right

Today, Wednesday, 8 September, has
been designated “International Literacy Day”, by the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization.

As Minister for Education, Training
and Employment, I join countries around the world in commemorating this day and
using it as a platform to highlight the importance of literacy.

UNESCO reminds us of the critical
role literacy plays, when it declares literacy to be “a human right, a tool of
personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.”
Traditionally, literacy has been referred to as the ability to read, understand
and use information.  However, as Donald
Block, author of Defining Literacy Up states, literacy needs to focus “not on
recognising basic words but on comprehension of the world around us”. 

People need literacy skills to
participate in modern society, whether it is to read a newspaper, to calculate
the dosage of medication, to use a computer programme, or to understand and
debate important public issues. Reading and being able to comprehend what
you’ve read is important in keeping you safe and allowing you to learn and grow
to better yourself. 

Low literacy skills can have an
impact on people’s ability to support themselves and their family. International
research findings, and our own experience within the Job Placement Unit of the
Department of Employment Relations, tell us that strong literacy skills are
closely linked to the probability of having a good job, decent earning, and
access to training opportunities. Individuals with weak literacy skills are
more likely to be unemployed or, if employed, to be in jobs that pay little or
that offer poor hours or working conditions.

Literacy skills can also affect our
country’s ability to compete in a highly-competitive global economy. As a
service-based economy, the Cayman Islands requires a high skilled and
productive workforce. Low literacy skills can be a barrier for our country to
maintain a strong and thriving community and the high standard of living we
have come to enjoy. 

Literacy is fundamental for
learning in school. Poor literacy skills handicap our children’s ability to
learn and, therefore, their life chances. In recent times, the term literacy
has come to take on broader meaning, standing for a range of knowledge, skills
and abilities relating to reading, mathematics, science and more. This reflects
widespread and deep changes that have taken place in technology and in the organisation
of work over the past quarter century. The ability to use and apply key
mathematics and science concepts is now necessary across a wide range of occupations.

Cayman’s children live and compete
in a global society. They must excel in every type of literacy so that they
have the ability to survive in today’s and tomorrow’s complex and ever-evolving
society.

Therefore, within the government
education system, literacy is a key priority. With the recent appointment of a
literacy coordinator within the ministry and the establishment of literacy task
forces at both primary and secondary levels, we are well on our way to
developing literacy strategies based upon international best practice. These
will include programmes to provide a safety net for our most vulnerable
students. 

However, we fully recognise that
the issue of improving literacy skills needs to be tackled by all partners
together as a national priority. As the Microsoft chairman for Africa and a
literacy champion has stated: “Promoting literacy requires action from both the
public and private sectors; we are all stakeholders in the fight to eradicate
illiteracy”.

 In the Cayman Islands, we are fortunate to
have many concerned individuals, businesses and organisations that give generously
of their time and money to literacy initiatives within our schools and the
wider community. Our challenge, and one the ministry will seek to take forward,
is to strengthen communications and collaborations with such groups, to
establish a common purpose and a strategic and united front to combat
illiteracy at all levels within the Cayman Islands community. 

Rolston Anglin,

Minister of Education, Training and
Employment.

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