Liberia: 'It's Time to Rethink Literacy'

opinion

-- Says KEEP founder, Brenda Moore

The executive director of the Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), Brenda B. M. Moore, says it is time to rethink literacy and ensure that each child is enabled to become a global citizen.

Mrs. Moore made the statement at the celebration of International Literacy Day, held at the Monrovia City Hall under the global theme "Literacy and Multilingualism," and the national theme "Re-thinking Literacy Development through Multilingualism."

Mrs. Moore, who delivered the keynote address, spoke of rethinking literacy as a chance to cross boundaries, open vast spaces and unleash potentials.

"Traditionally, we think of literacy as only the ability to read and write. Reading and writing are still very important components of literacy. But today, with the abundance of available information, the increasing influence of technology on our daily lives, and the need to communicate with varied audiences across the globe, literacy has come to mean more than just simply being able to read a book or write a letter," Mrs. Moore said.

Mrs. Moore said that with this "rethink" of literacy, each Liberian child can be enabled as a citizen of the world, rather than only his or her country of birth. She said the larger world becomes a place children can seek to understand, live in, as well as interact and communicate with.

"Rethinking literacy means reading and writing are not only to be taught in Language Arts classrooms but by all educators, and teachers of every subject area. Every teacher must share in the responsibility to further develop, strengthen and enhance a student's literacy in their specific subject area," she said.

From the moment a child is born, his or her literacy journey actually begins, with parents, family and community all playing important roles. Mrs. Moore said that a love of reading is a great gift to pass on to a child. As she put it: "Every child provided the best chance to become literate is an adult for whom we will not need Adult Literacy Programs."

"At KEEP, we believe that the stronger a child's foundation is in reading and writing, the easier it is to learn other life skills and professions. We know that being a doctor, engineer, lawyer or scientist does not begin in graduate school. It begins in pre-school, kindergarten and grade school," she said.

"This is why we are striving, all across the country, to help all of our children learn to read. If possible, as soon as they begin to say their first words."

She went on to express the importance of getting libraries into every school and community because, to borrow from Walter Cronkite, "whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to an ignorant nation".

According to her, KEEP joins the call with the Ministry of Education in an appeal to the Legislature to increase the appropriation for education to at least 10% of the national budget.

She said the challenges in the educational sector are enormous, "of course, money is not the cure-all for all of our educational problems.

Mrs. Moore said Liberian schools have been failing "for too long now". And our children are likewise failing. She said Liberians simply cannot ignore that too many of our children are either failing, barely passing, or graduating even when they can barely read or write!

All Liberians should be concerned because each boy or girl who fails to be as educated as another child in the region or the world is a dark spot on the collective bright future that we seek.

"We have called many things national emergencies in our country. The failing of the educational system is a real and serious emergency. It is time to treat it as such. Let us not just talk about it. Let us do something serious about it," she said.

A cross-section of those in audience at the International Literacy Day program in Monrovia.

UNESCO Regional Director, Stevenson Seidi also addressed the gathering.

"Our world is rich and diverse, with 7,000 living languages. These languages are instruments for communication, engagement in lifelong learning, and participation in society and the world of work." Mr. Seidi said these are also closely linked with distinctive identities, cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems.

According to him, embracing linguistic diversity in education and literacy development is a key part of developing inclusive societies that respects difference and upholds human dignity.

He continued that today, multilingualism -- the use of more than one language in daily life -- has become much more common with greater human mobility, instantaneous communication, globalization and digitization.

He said about 40 percent of the world's population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand, stating "we need to change this by making policies and practices more linguistically and culturally relevant, enriching multilingual literate environments and exploring the potential of digital technology."

Mr. Seidi said not only is this the international year of indigenous languages, it also marks the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Special Needs Education, where the Salamanca statement on inclusive education was adopted.

Liberia's Minister of Education, Professor D. Ansu Sonii, said educators have a responsibility to Liberia and the world that those they prepare have the ability to serve Liberia and the world.

"Over the years, the MoE has launched several programs promoting literacy, including "Each One, Teach One", adult literacy programs, night school programs for adults and alternative education. But still there remains a segment of students who leave school without achieving the requisite literacy level required," he said.

Prof. Sonii said that improving literacy continues to be one of the highest aspirations of the Ministry of Education. He said literacy enables citizens to create sustainable society together and enables individuals to make choices that promote economic activities.

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