International Literacy Day 2019

The Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for UNESCO will participate in the observance of International Literacy Day on Sunday 8 September, 2019.

The day has been proclaimed by the United Nations to remind the international community of the importance of literacy in the lives of all, as a matter of dignity and human rights. Research has shown that there is a strong connection between illiteracy and poverty, various forms of anti –social behavior as well as gender related issues in society.

This year’s theme “Literacy and Multilingualism” is consistent with and reinforces the celebration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

That linkage provides the opportunity for reflection on longstanding intolerance towards multilingualism which originated during colonialism. Trinidad and Tobago’s oral tradition is manifested in the continued existence of English Creole and other forms of expression including spoken word, storytelling, robber-talk, speech bands, rapso, extempo, panchayats and folktales. These contribute to the definition of our rich and diverse national identity and form integral aspects of our intangible cultural heritage,which must be protected and preserved.

Traditionally, literacy has been thought of as the ability to read and write. More recently, with the emergence of new technologies in the 21st century, the concept of literacy has expanded. According to the International Literacy Association, ‘Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context.’ Many in our society, including our youth, are active users of these digital materials and new technologies, among which is social media. The misuse of social media can result in the dissemination of inaccurate and potentially destructive information, damaging to society as a whole. All citizens can therefore help to build stronger communities and societies by being both careful and responsible in their use of social media, which remains a powerful tool for communication and for education.

Regardless of the form of delivery, at its core, literacy is the ability to communicate effectively, through developing the competence to both interpret and produce texts. It therefore empowers us to interact seamlessly with each other and with the world.

Driven by its mandate to promote harmony, peace, respect, understanding, conciliation, cooperation, poverty eradication, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through the five pillars of UNESCO’s work, including through education, the National Commission has embarked on a number of projects over the years, to promote national literacy. In this mission, the National Commission collaborates with NGO’s, civil society groups, government agencies and corporate partners. In every case, the goal has been to further strengthen educational outcomes.

One such programme was “Leading For Literacy Now!” which began in 2013 as a project of the UNESCO Participation Programme and continued as a joint National Commission for UNESCO/Ministry of Education/NALIS/School Leadership Center of Trinidad and Tobago/ Franciscan Institute/Army learning Centre 5-year project, with major corporate funding from Republic Bank Limited’s “Power to Make a Difference”. 

The Programme empowered principals with the leadership skills they needed to work with teachers of the Infant I and Infant II levels in their schools to improve the children’s reading standards. It trained the teachers in delivering a synthetic phonics reading method using Jolly Phonics. Very importantly, it also carried out four workshops for the parents of the children in the project in “Parenting for Literacy” from which the parents graduated. It was intended that each year a cross section of the most vulnerable children in the primary school system would become competent readers. This highly successful project was delivered in five Phases and impacted 187 primary schools, 187 Principals,358 Infant teachers and 7,731 Infant pupils in Trinidad and Tobago. At present, the programme is under review.

As the National Commission for UNESCO observes International Literacy Day 2019, it acknowledges the work and leadership of the Ministry of Education and the contribution of all the universities, teachers, educators, communities, NGO’s and civil society groups including Religious Organizations among others, in transforming lives through promoting literacy not just as the foundation for education, but importantly,  as a critical life skill. Their work and commitment add significantly to building a literate, socially well-adjusted society and to advancing literacy as an integral facet of lifelong learning towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal #4 of the United Nations Agenda 2030, to which Trinidad and Tobago subscribes.


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