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‘You can tell someone is illiterate by how they look’

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Myths about literacy: Part 3

What if I told you only 45 per cent of our population in Trinidad could read and understand a newspaper article like this one? That one in four people could not perform everyday reading and writing tasks like reading simple signs or filling out basic forms? Now, imagine for a moment that you were sharing a taxi with a non-reader, standing in the grocery line behind them or greeting them when you both arrive to pick up your children from school. Can you say confidently that you would know it? If you did, you are among many who believe the third myth about literacy: you can tell someone is not literate by how they look. 


Despite our best intentions in our social relationships, judging an adult’s literacy by external indicators: a good job or a business, stable family life, good physical appearance and deportment, and eloquence, has ensured non-readers get the perfect ‘cover’ for their low literacy. 


A well-spoken businessman who avoids print, offering to meet in person rather than write a letter, or makes excuses about needing glasses amid paperwork may have gone all his life without once being identified as a non-reader. 


Simply looking at someone or listening to how they speak is not a reliable indicator of literacy. Mastering reading and writing depends on the wiring of your brain and having the opportunity to learn. Moreover aptitude for literacy does not determine a person’s ability, especially the ability to think and to succeed. There might be someone in your office who is working to improve his reading and writing without arousing suspicion, waiting patiently to step out and up, without discrimination. 


Sadly, some have missed out on opportunities or not participated in anything new because they fear their reading ability will be used to judge their capability. Alta students have said that they turned down a promotion or quit a job when there is a change of procedure which called for greater reading or writing. 


Bring an end to this myth. Be alert to the signs of low literacy like displaying badges of literacy, eg carrying a newspaper, pen in pocket—but never using these. Alta registers people 16 and over once a year—on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of September, the start of the new academic year for free literacy classes. 


Registration is easy. Visit your nearest public library on Tues 2 or Wed 3 September and Alta tutors will let you know the class options in the area and sign you up. Do not judge a book by its cover: Help someone take off the mask and let go of the myth.





Become a part of Alta. Volunteer, Donate, Sponsor a student. New student registration begins September 2 and 3. Call 624-ALTA (2582) or e-mail [email protected] or like us on Facebook: ALTA Trinidad. 



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