I doubt there is a teacher in TT who believes that 98.7 percent of the overall 15+ population is literate, and even more implausibly that 99.5 percent of the 15-24 age group is literate! Did the UN conduct a literacy survey to arrive at these incredible 2009 literacy rates for TT? No. The UN gets its statistics from governments and their website advises that “literacy estimates should be used with caution.” So the Government citing UNDP or EFA reports for TT is merely quoting themselves after some UN engineering to update the statistics.
Government’s literacy statistics come from equating attendance at primary school with literacy or from census responses to the question “Are you literate?” Do you know any Trini who would say ‘no’ to that question? The UN takes government’s “estimates” and “combines this with recent estimates based on its Global age-specific literacy projections model developed in 2007.” The impossible near 100 percent literacy rate is thus the product of “estimating” and “projecting.” While there are no up-to-date accurate literacy statistics as the only national literacy surveys were 15 years ago (ALTA 1994; UWI 1995), it is obvious from the empirical evidence that the statistics in these Ministry of Education ads are very wrong. More likely to be right is the 1995 UWI finding that only 45 percent of adults could read a letter like this.
Before using taxpayers’ money to run these full-page colour ads again, the Government should take a look at its many training programmes — YTEPP, MUST, GAPP, CCC, HYPE, Retraining Programme — and at Servol and NGO programmes. Over the last decade, almost all of these programmes have approached ALTA saying their teachers report that trainees’ inadequate literacy skills make them unable to cope with the training provided. This is ample evidence that our literacy rate is not around 99 percent. Millions of dollars have been spent on skills training when what we needed was literacy instruction first so trainees could benefit from the notes on the board and the handouts, and be able to function in their prospective workplace.
Moreover, every time the Government boasts of our mythical high literacy it makes each of the 200,000+ struggling readers think “I am the only one who has trouble with reading.” This feeling of isolation adds another hurdle to the many preventing them from getting help to improve their reading and writing.
Since the Ministry of Education’s ads are so wrong, can we believe anything in the numerous ads run by every ministry as their budgets are plundered to campaign for the PNM?
CEO, Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA)