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Unisa online - If you can you read this, please don't stop

Prof Anna Hugo

Can you read these words? If you can, consider yourself fortunate as there are many adults and children in the world today who indeed have the ability to learn to read but, as a result of circumstances beyond their control, have never learned to.

This is a serious problem, one which Prof Anna Hugo of the College of Education, addressed through her inaugural lecture with the subtext of being able to read or not.

Getting to the heart of this, she stressed the sheer importance of knowing how to read in everyday situations such reading a notice placed in your postbox by the municipality, reading your children’s or grandchildren’s school reports or the date of your next appointment with your doctor. “Imagine driving around and not to be able to read the street names or the names of towns, or imagine opening a computer and not to be able to read what is written on the screen,” she questioned.

Of course, we cannot talk about reading without referring to books and libraries and Hugo gives reason to believe that South Africa can learn from other countries, such as Brazil, as far as reading and books are concerned. Brazil, one of the developing countries that form part of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) group of countries, has managed to make significant strides in reducing the percentage of its population that cannot read or write.  This is because the Brazilian government created the right conditions for a state-led effort to eradicate illiteracy.

Perhaps South Africa can even take a leaf out of Iceland’s book as this is one of the most literate countries in the world. They even have a ‘tradition’ of ‘TV-free Thursdays’ where Icelanders are actively encouraged to read rather than watch television.

Raising pertinent questions, Hugo said, “I ask myself the question if books are valued in South Africa? What percentage of budgets is set aside for libraries? Are we training enough librarians?  Why do many schools in rural areas not have libraries?”

Lack of resources certainly has dire effects on literacy, which in the opinion of many people, is a human right.  In most countries where illiteracy is high, illiteracy and poverty remain partners.  With ninety five percent of the world’s illiterate people living in developing countries, it’s sad that Africa remains the continent with the lowest literacy rate in the world.

Referring to a newspaper article earlier this year where it was reported that adult literacy levels in South Africa remain lower than other developing countries in spite of the fact that the country is spending as much as, or even more on education than other developing countries, Hugo said it’s obvious that “money does not necessarily ensure or even seem to help education or literacy.”

However, it’s not all a blank page with no strategy. Hugo commends the strides being made in the field of Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) under the National Department of Education. In the ABET curriculum, the instruction of reading is defined by certain outcomes that have to be attained.  The important notion of comprehension is a crucial issue and one of the outcomes is aimed at the development of an adult learner’s ability to understand meaning in different contexts using various reading skills.

But the rise of literacy still remains the responsibility of other entities including Unisa as a higher education institution. “Those of us who are working at higher education level can no longer turn a blind eye to students who are failing to make a success of their years at institutions of higher education.  There are many reasons why students do not succeed at tertiary level but, according to government statements, the final responsibility is on universities and other institutions at tertiary level to ensure that as many students as possible succeed in their studies. If there is something that can be done on the part of institutions to improve students’ language and reading skills, then these institutions will have to act promptly,” said Hugo, an ardent academic.

Click here for complete inaugural lecture

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