Without strong reading and writing skills, we cannot develop this nation.
We may build massive hotels on the edge of the ocean with imported Chinese labour, but we cannot harbour a refined culture, cultivate our creative energy, or reap intellectual innovation, if our reading and writing remains poor.
Without literate books as our foundation, we cannotbecome a global 21st century society.
his, of course, reflects the state of our governance. Our State leaders refuse to become role models, national mentors and inspiring motivators in the realm of books, libraries, literature, reading, or writing.
While developed nations like Canada fast-track their leap into the Knowledge Age with Government-funded skills development programmes, for example Essential Life Skills, and a vibrant community library system, our society remains anchored to ancient industrial-age traditions.
Oh, would the day come when our Minister of Education walks around with a literature book in her hand, or our President picks up a Shakespeare, or a Naipaul or a Martin Carter or a Mittlelholzer, and quotes from its pages.
Would the day come when our school Principals and teachers once again display, in their classrooms and offices, bookshelves and personal libraries of the classics. Even in this age of digital books, a bookshelf speaks volumes in the shaping of social space. Would the day come when the libraries of the University of Guyana shine like a place of wonder in the land?
These become dreams, wishes, flights of fancy, in this land so bereft of the love for words and language, this tool that defines who we are as human beings – as individuals and as a society. We despise the very tool, the linguistic mechanism, by which we become a society of functioning human beings.
We talk without thinking.
But were we even to excuse the President and the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education and the Youth and Culture Minister, how could we excuse the habit of our Parliamentarians, who neglect the public display of a literate lifestyle?
We know the House harbours lovers of books and internationally accomplished writers, like Rupert Roopnaraine, but these leaders seem lukewarm where the literacy war is concerned.
In the strenuous battle for this Government to rise from its inertia to tackle the dead weight of illiteracy bedevilling us, we see little action, rhetoric or concern from our Parliamentarians.
What would it take to whip up a group of non-partisan Members of Parliament, accomplished in their own education and literate achievements, to form a national Parliamentary Commission, or some such body, to elevate our ability, as a nation, to comprehend, to think, to compose our thoughts?
It costs nothing but time, and a heart of care for the children and youth of our nation. Most of these Parliamentarians know the joys of parenting, and most see their kids attending expensive private schools, and retreating overseas to study at the tertiary level.
So them contemplating the child born to a poor family in Moruca or Cotton Tree or Dartmouth, who cannot read or write or access books, becomes a thing of near impossibility. And what they do not know that they do not know, they cannot care about, even an issue as crushing as a little boy suffering under the cruel hand of illiteracy.
That boy, unable to read, cannot use his laptop he got from the Government technology programme. He may play digital games, but not read Hamlet, or The Great Gatsby, or Martin Carter.
We never see our Parliamentarians walking into schools, sitting in a classroom, in Berbice or Essequibo or Orealla or Lethem or South Rupununi, to observe the literacy of the children of the nation they represent at the National Assembly.
Our Opposition Members of Parliament pontificate with pomp and passion on such necessities as public accountability and the behaviour of their House colleague the Home Affairs Minister, spending umpteen hours and many days debating a nonsensical thing, such as if the man should be allowed to speak on the House floor. They go to court over such things. They ask the High Court to deliberate on cutting the National Budget for some half-educated wits at a State media agency.
This is where we’ve fallen to in this land.
Who goes to court for us to see the National Budget focus, not on incompetent contractors building and painting school buildings, but on the children of Parika being able to read and write at an international level?
Who argues in Parliament for the Minister of Education to declare our literacy state as a national emergency of crisis proportions?
In our media we see countless commentaries, letters, pleadings, reports, studies, and so on, detailing the critical nature of this crisis. The lament goes back for years.
Since our alarming decline started with a scarcity of books in the 1980’s, through the past 20 years, we witnessed the State burying its head in bureaucracy, incompetence and mediocrity, unable to deal with the mammoth task to clean up the mess. This Government’s strategy to deal with the crisis lacks any sense whatsoever, with over one billion US$ spent, mostly to repair and paint buildings, developing a State real estate inventory, while ignoring the human capital resource of the country – an extraordinarily backward view of national wealth.
Unless we put up a strong protest, and keep the pressure on, we will see another 20 years, another billion US$, and more generations of Guyanese, lost. We walk straight into the default future of continuing widespread illiteracy, if we do not, now, develop a national conversation that demands action and results.
It seems clear that our President, Prime Minister, Minister of Education and Minister of Youth and Culture, individually and collectively, cannot solve this crisis.
Instead, it calls for a national Parliamentary-led battle to inculcate reading and writing of literature on a national scale, involving schools, homes and families, a culture of libraries and national leaders as literary role models.
Could we implore someone at Parliament to take it on, to lead the battle for a literate Guyanese society?