Thursday, June 29, 2017

Second Part: Functional Literacy - Beyond the 3Rs

Hands-on and on-site study enhances practical learning.
UST Graduate Students on a field trip in Amadeo, Cavite
Dr Abe V Rotor
Literacy is a measure of capability rather than just meeting the fundamentals of writing, reading and arithmetic or the so-called 3Rs. For many years this triad dominated the concept and application of literacy.

I grew up with this rule of thumb with my dad as my first teacher. It was a convenient gauge among citizens at large. It was the aim of compulsory basic education, that is six years of elementary, and later four years high school?

But the level of literacy is based on the low end of a longer and wider test for literacy. Ours in more ways is still basically the three “Rs” virtually unchanged. Thus, when a person, irrespective of age, is able to read the newspapers, write legibly the names of candidates of his choice in an election, and can make simple computations, he is considered literate.

But how literate is literate today?

It is viewing literacy in my own time comparing it with literacy in the present generation; literacy on the farm and literacy in the city. How varied is literacy - qualitatively and quantitatively?

Or we may also put it this way, “How different is literacy in theory and literacy in practice?”

Here is a scenario in the movie, The God’s Must be Crazy. Imagine a lady teacher assigned for the first time in a remote village in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, Africa. How could she escape a thorny bush which virtually engulfed her? Can she climb a tree to escape a wild beast? Can she find enough water from dewdrops clinging on grass and leaves? Naturally she cannot. She had never experienced any of these in the city where she grew up.

The Bushman, on the other hand, accustomed to desert life, wonders how illiterate the lady is. In like manner, the Bushman is illiterate to the ways of the civilized world. In fact to him a bird and plane are one and same, it’s only the sound they make that makes a difference. He had never seen a bottle. To him he wondered how water can become so hard. Would he know the concept of ownership? What value is money to him? But would the lady know which path to take and evade ambush by a lion? Does a rhino charge at a fire at night and stump on it until it is extinguish? Or is this only a myth? Ask Andrew, the clumsy researcher conducting a doctoral research in the desert.

In today’s standard this conventional parameter is no longer adequate to enable one to perform efficiently and comfortably the many tasks required of modern living, considering the advances of science and technology, the expansion of the realms of human endeavor, and interdisciplinary concerns.

On the other hand, can a citybred live comfortably on the countryside? Suppose there is force majeure that deprives one the amenities of living? Take the case of the movie Castaway, a story of a survivor who lived all by himself in an island for four years, until he was rescued. Earlier fiction novels tell us of man's resiliency to adapt to sudden change in environment, orphaned from society by circumstance, such as Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe. Success in survival in these stories depended on functional or applied literacy, coupled by extreme determination that tests the mind, psyche and spirit.


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