Statement from the OECS Commission on the observance of International Literacy Day (September 8, 2016)

Around the world the spotlight on literacy is brightening! That is in concert with the sharpening focus by the OECS Commission who joins major international agencies in promoting the value of literacy generally, and its specific role in poverty eradication and fostering egalitarian societies. The composite of financial contributions and advocacy by top-tier institutions like UNESCO, USAID and the Global Reading Network, among others, have given impetus to the drive to eradicate illiteracy. This year marks 50 years since UNESCO established September 8 as International Literacy Day.
Such efforts win the adoration of the entire world and are seen as creating a movement. Maya Angelou analogized it powerfully: “The elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue as the abolition of slavery”. No one would deny the true liberation and empowerment that literacy brings.
Some of these efforts have borne fruit to some degree. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reported in September, 2015 that 757 million adults (15 years and older), including 115 million youth (15 – 24 years), cannot read or write a simple sentence. Roughly two-thirds of them (63%) are female. This represents an improvement over 2012 when the number of illiterate adults was estimated to be 781 million.
The OECS Commission is playing its part to support literacy improvement in the region. Last year, the Commission was able to secure an award of approximately $US 9 million to implement the Early Learners Programme (ELP), an intervention targeting reading development issues at the Grade K – 3 levels. The six independent Member States of the OECS are the beneficiaries of this award agreement.
These States have undertaken several initiatives to address some of evident shortcoming in reading and writing. Data in 2015 from Antigua indicate that at key stage Grade 2 level, 61% of students read at or above grade level. In the previous year St. Kitts had recorded upwards of 90 % at the same grade. In 2015 in St. Lucia the overall performance at the Minimum Standards Examination in Grade 2 was 47. 9. The ELP is expected to augment these efforts and achieve the goal: ‘Every learner succeeds’.
The OECS Commission celebrates and champions all these and other undertakings to address concerns about literacy. In this regard, the Commission joins all Member States, including Ministries of Education and educational institutions, members of the United Nations and the international community, in celebrating 2016 International Literacy Day under the theme ‘Reading the Past, Writing the Future’.
Inherent in this theme is the understanding that literacy encapsulates more than just reading. Writing is another critical component, requiring great attention. The theme, moreover, suggests a concurrent reflection on what has been achieved, the road travelled, and active engagement on what lies ahead, what is still to be done and how to get there. International Literacy Day provides an ideal opportunity for that kind of reflection and commitment to continue taking active steps towards literacy for all. The OECS Commission invites all within the Member States to share in celebrating literacy and the lifelong esteem that it brings to its bearers. Happy International Literacy Day, 2016.

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