GREAT BAY – International Literacy Day is on September 8th. The day is celebrated annually worldwide and brings together governments, multi- and bilateral organizations, NGOs, private sectors, communities, teachers, learners and experts in the field. It is an occasion to mark achievements and reflect on ways to counter remaining challenges for the promotion of literacy as an integral part of lifelong learning within and beyond the 2030 Education Agenda.
September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 17, 1965. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.
Literacy in a digital world
This year, International Literacy Day is being celebrated across the world under the theme of ‘Literacy in a digital world as a key target in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education).
In order to close the literacy skills gap and reduce inequalities (SDG 10: Reduce Inequality), this year’s International Literacy Day is highlighting the challenges and opportunities in promoting literacy in the digital world, a world where, despite progress, at least 758 million adults and 263 million out-of-school children still lack basic literacy skills.
Sint Maarten has an illiteracy rate of 4 percent, according to the Sint Maarten MDG report ‘2015 and Beyond’. The illiteracy rate of 15-24 year-olds by sex is 0.8 percent for males and 0.7 percent.
In 2011, illiteracy rates for persons between the ages of 15-24 were approximately one percent, based on the proportion of students who did not complete primary education, on St. Maarten.
St. Maarten and Quality Education
St. Maarten is no different and one may still find persons who, for instance, do not know how to use a computer or even manage E-mail communication, because of insufficient literacy skills.
Where school drop outs are concerned, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report on St. Maarten 2015 and Beyond notes that the most important reason for dropping out (apart from emigration) is that adolescents are entering the workforce.
Children most at-risk of dropping out come from families with greater economic difficulties. They look for work in tourism, have lower expectations of the future and, in many cases, think that finishing school or going to college is a waste of time.
St. Maarten has been developing quality and access to education and educators. Women and men enjoy equal access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education.
The elderly, the physically challenged and underprivileged youth are supported through educational programs while policies are in place to decrease dropout’s rates in education and to digitalize the education system. St. Maarten is, meanwhile, transitioning to UNESCO’s open Educational Management Information System.
To enhance the educational level of youth between the ages of 16 – 24, who may have left school prematurely or who lack the appropriate qualifications for the labor market, the Social Formation Program was re-initiated and restructured between 2008 and 2010. The result was the Youth Development Program, which was implemented from 2011 – 2014, as a second chance educational program.
Between 2011 and 2013, two secondary schools on Sint Maarten were granted permission by the Minister of Education to provide adult secondary vocational education program. In 2013, these programs were transferred to the Board of Adult Secondary Vocational Education, which provided advanced secondary and adult education at the new vocational institute.
Additional St. Maarten initiatives
St. Maarten is an Associate Member of UNESCO since 2011. Over the past years, the St. Maarten National Commission for UNESCO headed by Secretary General, Marcellia Henry, has been assisting with the promoting of literacy on the island.
Literacy efforts which UNESCO have promoted and executed in St. Maarten include funding of ‘The Bridge Project’ submitted by Dr. Rhoda Arrindell of the Institute for Language Research and Development.
In order to engage the “at risk” youth population (ages 13 – 24 years) of St. Maarten, the Bridge Project works with other organizations and individuals to teach literacy skills, guide and assist these young persons. This is in order to prevent dropout and/or help this group transition better into the labor market as well as make use of opportunities for continuing with their formal education.
Other efforts have been collaborating with the Philipsburg Jubilee Library and Community Outreach Mentoring and Empowerment International (COME) Center. The COME center offers programs such as Senior in Actions, Adult Basic Assessment (Literacy) and book café. Other initiatives involve those with the Department of Labor Affairs and Social Services, St. Martin Sunrise Rotary Club and individuals volunteering with the ‘SXM Reads’ Campaign Program.
Literacy Awareness Month was observed in St. Maarten in September 2015 and 2016. Activities that marked the occasion during the past two years included a literacy conference, family story reading sessions, tutorial sessions for functional illiterate individuals, and seminars for volunteers to equip them with skills to tutor persons with low literacy skills, a panel discussion, a movie night and a celebration of reading at the Emilio Wilson Park.
Additional initiatives last year entailed collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Culture Youth and Sports with Education on the Move (EOM) to promote literacy in our community.
The Education on the Move Campaign is an educational campaign whereby all educational stakeholders and the community of St. Maarten will be involved. The campaign’s objective is to get everyone engaged & talking about the importance of Education & to see & envision the benefits it will harvest. It was launched by Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, Silveria Jacobs and coordinated by project manager, Angelique Martis-Romou.
To mark International Literacy Day 2016, individuals from the SXM READS Committee, Government officials, Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and other individuals in the community were invited to read to children at afterschool and community school programs. Idea is to repeat these activities for the 2017 International Literacy Day commemoration.
Within the Government organization, the department of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BAK) is the coordinating body for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).