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Sunday, January 22, 2017

You just might be illiterate

In my father’s generation literacy consisted of the “Three Rs” . There was Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. I have capitalized the ‘R’s so that you would not have to struggle like I did to make a proper acronym of the words. However the pun on words has turned out to be somewhat prophetic and is no longer a practical joke. Somehow in my generation literacy was reduced to “reading and writing” . Though this reduced the burden of becoming a literate person by conveniently removing that troublesome last R, arithmetic is essential for the creation, interpretation and operation in a digital world. The lack of capacity to handle the last R has left many countries in Africa groping in darkness and gasping for air after nations that are leading the technology revolution. By discarding arithmetic we are subject to advanced loan calculations we do not know how to compute!

One would be forgiven for thinking that by teaching people to read, they will automatically know how to write. When people actually used to write letters and compositions that may have been the case, nevertheless a cursory glance at the bulk of text messages exchanged across the globe, it would not be wrong to assume that people have NOT forgotten, rather they have NEVER learned to write! This may sound alarmist, but no new literature books of have emerged in Africa since the 1960’s. Africans don’t read African literature, to the extent that writers no longer write.  There are not only No developers of technology emerging in Africa, but there is a catastrophic drought of African writers. However, while the trend that writers do not write is disturbing, the indication that people do not read at all is disheartening!

This may seem a small matter to you, but though there is “plethora” of information on the internet, the uptake of reading of books, eBooks or anything that demands reading has been replaced by audio-visuals is changing the literacy agenda.  The next generation really does not need to read. The three Rs have been replaced by watching, hearing and talking (Three "As"). The three Rs engaged the brain and facilitated understanding. This latter form of literacy lets people know a lot of things, but does not enable them to understand much of it. We have lost a great deal of ground in throwing out the three Rs. A very sad moment for me was when the last real book shop that stocked all kinds of books (not just school texts) in the capital closed down last year. On the main street in the capital there is no bookshop. However, every building has a restaurant and several eating places. The shift of emphasis from the head, past the heart to the stomach is a sure sign of the loss of brain-fed literacy.

Allan Bukusi is a the author of the following eBooks

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