ILLITERACY AS A SOCIAL PROBLEM AND THE ROLE OF SCHOOL IN REVERSING THE SITUATION

The social dimension

It is almost impossible for a literate person to imagine the social life of human groups without written language. In order to form society, it is essential to talk with people. This, in turn, makes room for a social necessity: communication.

Our society requires us to be literate, which implies not only a set of abilities, like learning to read and write, but also to be able to express and argument a point of view, to make connections, compare, interpret, reflect, and think critically, among other things.

All this knowledge allows us to take part in all fields of life: political, democratic, educational, social and economic. Considering the criteria mentioned above, illiterate people cannot become part of the society.

A social problem: illiteracy

After the release of the statistics realized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1976, which stated that there were over 800 million illiterate people in the world, it was suggested that affected countries include alphabetization in their national development plans, in which both adults and children were to be included.

In adults, it was necessary to fill in the gaps, while children had to be prevented from becoming illiterate.

The most important aspect is that UNESCO recognized the failure of previous educational campaigns, stating that if the situation didn’t change, the 21st century would find a largely illiterate world.

Illiteracy has its roots in several factors, such as:

– The socio-economical dimension

– The difference between the advanced urban areas and the underdeveloped rural ones

– The socio-educational difference

– Unsolved ethnic and cultural problems

– Low standards of living (caused by global poverty or poor distribution of the available resources)

As Jose Rivero states, “…it is no coincidence that over 98% of the illiterate population lives in the poorest areas and societies of the world.”

Illiterate people have entered a vicious cycle, in which they are rejected because they cannot read or write, and cannot learn these skills either, because they have been excluded. However, it is worth mentioning that there are – although rare – programs of study meant to solve these problems.

The research has brought light over the dark side of illiteracy. The issue of school failure and dropout was already related not only to social and familial problems, or individual pathology, but also it was admitted that the problem was often caused by factors regulated by the educational system.

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FUNDAMENTAL TEACHING PRINCIPLES

– The arrangement in school of a wide space developed for alphabetization that will resemble the environment in which the child lives.

– The elaboration of institutional projects that promote significant acts of reading and writing and that also meet children’s various interests and skills.

– Starting from the children’s previous knowledge for initiating the process of teaching and learning, also considering the widespread nature of their knowledge.

– Respecting the differences between students and being aware of their developmental processes. “A didactic plan that takes into account the children’s developmental processes doesn’t involve the principle of laissez-faire, and appreciating their thoughts doesn’t mean that there’s no need to plan, intervene and evaluate.”

– Scaffolding the process of teaching and learning, by focusing on the children who encounter the biggest problems, but without neglecting the rest.

– Making interventions that stimulate learning and interaction between children.

– Encouraging children’s interest towards the written text.

– Creating contextualized situations.

– Ensuring a permanent connection between reading and writing.

– Offering each child the opportunity to choose the materials and make recommendations about them, which stimulates the children’s development of autonomous criteria of selection.

All these situations must include collective systematization. However, didactic studies have revealed the impossibility to reproduce in the school environment the exact reading and writing conditions that students encounter outside school: students read and learn in order to attain certain aims, but at the same time they read to improve their reading and write to improve their writing. This is why the situations created at school do not always match those encountered in other social contexts; therefore, it is necessary to accept that in some cases, the situations staged in school may not happen outside of it, and their only purpose is to provide a way to communicate the children certain information (systematization activities).

To conclude, we quote Graciela Montes’s words: “The issue of reading must not be raised in connection with childhood, but rather with the society and its environment. We should determine the exact place of reading in the life of people today. (…) A society of readers is difficult to tame and control. Moreover, as dictatorships have always sensed, a critical reader is a dangerous thing. A book in the hands of such a reader (…) can make a significant change. Does this society want to be changed? Does it want to have dissatisfied, nitpicking, reflective critics? Does it really want people who think?  Does it want readers, or it only needs people that purchase books?…”