Illiteracy in Our Society
It was one of the days I will never forget in my life time. My father was very sick in Abeokuta; my village, where we both live together with my mother. The people in our community have tried their hand on one thing or the other to help him, but we are left with the only option of taking him to the hospital in the city. My mother is to go first to the city and inform my uncle about this incident, so that my uncle could help take my father to the hospital. Has my mother cannot read nor write and cannot communicate in English language; which is the only language spoken by the healthcare workers at the city hospital. Because of my mother astonishment to the situation of my father, the people in our community advise my mother not to go to the city alone but to go with me so that I could encourage her. Then I was twelve years old, never go to school and also don’t know how to read or write nor speak any other language than the one I was brought up with in Abeokuta.
We board the bus going to the city. The drama started when we got to the city, when various bus-stop were been announced by the bus conductor and my mother could not recognize the one we are to stop at. She has twice visited my uncle with my father in the city but I have never. We came down at one of the bus-stop and now to locate my uncle house yet another problem for her. She told me she recognizes the name of the street my uncle lives in by seeing it and started checking names on all street name’s poles. My uncle lives at ‘Smith Sunday Street’. My mother truly knows the name of the street but only by symbols of the alphabets if she could see it, but couldn’t pronounce or read any. We begin going from one street pole to the other, wandering in one place till the day break. All those that we make attempt to talk to didn’t understand our language and even find it difficult to know what help we need. When it was night time, the people in the area took us to the nearest police station and from there the police department help us to figure out someone that understand our language and the person help us back to our village without even seeing my uncle. I was not happy about this situation and as I grown up, I think of it over and over again. My parents are not educated and they did not educate me also.
Literacy can be viewed as a social contract, an agreed upon representation of certain symbols’. “If the symbols’ (letters) meanings are not agreed upon by those attempting to communicate, then interpreting one another becomes difficult” (Kozol). Literacy is often defined as the ability to read and write, however, this is not the case, but also the ability to communicate effectively within the society. This means being able to speak, listen, read, write, comprehend, and view things. And according to Jonathan Kozol, “…in order to communicate and express yourself effectively to another you must be literate for that other person to understand you. If you are not educated enough to be able to communicate efficiently you are believed to be illiterate” (Kozol). As my mother not able to convey her messages properly when we get to the city, she was frequently misunderstood. Everyone looked down upon her and considered her to be slow and dumb when she cannot communicate effectively in the city. In Amy Tan's essay, "Mother Tongue", she reveals her experience, "I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother's "limited" English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect" (Tan). When individuals are not able to speak efficiently in the society that encompasses them they cannot possibly be understood. If you are not understood correctly you will not be taken seriously and thought of as uneducated. Illiteracy is not caused by a lack of...
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