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Adult literacy in the Commonwealth Caribbean with special reference to a study of the functional literacy of young Guyanese adults

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International databases report high rates of adult literacy for Commonwealth Caribbean countries which create the impression that these countries do not have a literacy problem. This is despite the fact that local and regional research has consistently pointed up serious weaknesses in the literacy skills of nationals at all levels, including university students. This paper questions whether the reported high adult literacy rates really reflect the reality of the situation in Commonwealth Caribbean countries and it uses a case study of Guyana – the poorest and most underdeveloped of the English-speaking Caribbean – to support its case. The paper describes the methodology of the test used for measuring levels (high, moderate, low) of achievement in functional literacy of out-of-school youth (OSY) in three domains (document, prose, quantitative) where literacy and numeracy functions are typically found in the society. Special reference is made to differences in achievement in functional literacy according to gender and ethnicity. The main findings of the study are: that only 11% of the OSY achieve at a high level of functional literacy: that females tend to achieve at a higher level of functional literacy than males and that there are significant differences in the achievement of the OSY from the different ethnic groups. The findings suggest a much lower adult literacy rate for Guyana than is usually reported and underscore the fact that failure to report rates that more accurately represent the situation in Commonwealth Caribbean countries will prolong the absence of political will to address the social and economic issues which lie at the root of the literacy problem. In countries where their provision is weak, adult and continuing education programmes are needed to help the adult population to meet the changing demands of society for improved skills in literacy and numeracy.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Education and Development Sciences, Guyana

Publication date: 2000-09-01

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