JIS News

Think JAMAL and most persons will automatically conjure up images of older men and women learning to read and write the simplest of words.
The Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) Foundation is making a determined effort to dispel that myth, having evolved into a high tech learning organization that offers cutting edge education programmes that are relevant to survival in a modern, technology driven world that is fast contracting into a global community.
With a number of computer labs established in parishes throughout the island persons are not only taught how to read and write but to have direct access to the information highway through the touch of a button.
Executive Director of JAMAL, Seymour Riley informs JIS News that the introduction of these computer programmes is an effort to provide persons with computer application skills that can be used either to enter the workplace or to assist in further studies.
“Working with literacy is pretty much like working with shifting sand because here we are now with significantly improved literacy levels, but the demands for literacy have changed a great deal. We are now in a highly technological age. One expects that people will be able to walk into an ABM machine with touch screen instructions and be able to access the banking facilities,” Mr. Riley explains.
Computer programmes are now available at JAMAL centres in Kingston, St. Catherine, St. Ann’s Bay, Montego Bay, Mandeville and Black River, with plans for gradual implementation of such centres in all 14 parishes.
While agreeing that JAMAL’s initial offerings had targetted adults who were unable to read and write, Mr. Riley points out that this has changed significantly. He explains that in 1970 the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conducted an adult literacy survey in Jamaica, which showed that there was between 40-50 percent adult illiteracy in the island.
“So it (the survey) was saying at that time, that about half of the adult population of Jamaica could not read and write at an acceptable level, and in 1972 the government who took office at that time used the result of the 1970 survey and made a national attack on illiteracy and that was the first time that illiteracy was being tackled in Jamaica on a national basis,” Mr. Riley says.
He further explains that there were literacy programmes stretching as far back as the 1930’s, however, 1972 was the first time that it was given such a national profile and a greater level of resources and attention. “It was in fact a serious matter, when half of your adult population is unable to read and write. That is not a basis for progress. So that was the situation then and over the years we are now at a position where we have a 20 percent adult illiteracy level,” Mr. Riley informs.
Explaining the functions of JAMAL, Mr. Riley says the basic and core programmes of the Foundation are the adult literacy and numeracy programmes which is offered to persons aged 15 years and over. In addition to the core programme, there is the computer education programme for persons who have completed the basic literacy programme.
Outside of the regular classroom setting, JAMAL also offers the work place learning programme. “This is where we go into places of employment and with arrangement with the employers we provide basic education for those employees who require that level of education,” Mr. Riley explains.
The High School Equivalence programme is another of JAMAL’s latest pilot projects, and is expected to include at least three subject areas. The programme will be available to the public towards the end of this year or early 2006.
“There is also a literacy facilitators training programme where we work with agencies, non governmental organizations and persons involved in literacy and basic education delivery, and we do the training of those persons. In all of this life coping skills forms a basis and an integral part of all of our educational programmes,” Mr. Riley explains.
With all of these programmes being offered the public is not as aware of JAMAL as they were some15 years ago. This Mr. Riley says is so because to a large extent the Movement’s visibility is not as great as it was then. “At that time there was high profile public relations as part of the programme and yes it is true that we are not as visible as we were then,” Mr. Riley informs JIS News.
Explaining how the programme works the Executive Director says JAMAL has operations in all parishes in Jamaica with current enrollment averaging 12,000 with the mean age being between 19 and 20 years old.
“Given the range of other programme offerings that we are developing we have been putting in place plans for the advertising, the publicity and the involvement of more and more persons in the expanded programme offering, particularly the high school,” Mr. Riley says.
He says it is estimated that approximately 70-75 per cent of the Jamaican adult population has below grade 11 level of certification. “So although we have a much larger proportion of persons who are able to read and write at a basic level the demands of modern society are now even much greater. So we now need to be shifting our focus not from just reading and writing as an end in and of itself but the using of the reading and writing in the whole process of lifelong learning,” Mr. Riley says.
Another major plan of the programme is to remove the perception that JAMAL is only for older persons who had lost out on basic education. “What it means is that when we say JAMAL immediately you think of basic reading and writing of older persons and indeed this has created a stigmatization. So the very thing that has made JAMAL successful that very thing is now hindering its further progress,” Mr. Riley says. Now that JAMAL has become a brand, Mr. Riley says ways will have to be found to address this stigmatization so that adults can access the services and programmes in order to improve their general level of basic education and be able to enter into programmes and activities that require a grade nine or a grade 11 level of certification.
Over the next five years Jamaicans should, however see a transformation in its image. “I see the face of JAMAL being transformed and the image of JAMAL being changed from one of an entirely basic literacy organization to an organization which is promoting and delivering adult learning opportunities – being part of the whole business of life long learning,” Mr. Riley says.
It is hoped that this transformation will better address the needs of the entire out of school youth and adults. “There are so many persons who need to improve their levels of education. They may or may not be employed and as we said earlier regardless of where you are there will always be the need to improve your educational level,” Mr. Riley notes.
“The demand for literacy has shifted and this is normal. We can easily think of a time in history when the literacy demand was to be able to sign your name and if you can sign your name that was okay. Then we moved to the point of the early 1970s when it meant and the definition used then was to be able to read and write a simple statement on everyday life,” Mr. Riley says, adding “today, if all you can do is read a simple statement, in everyday life you won’t be able to adequately function and participate in the requirements of modern society”.
In fact, he stressed, ” the very basis of our democracy depends on the ability to read, analyze and be critical and that of course is part of the challenge that we have where to a large extent persons give up their democratic rights at the time of election. The level of participation that democracy requires is really only being used by a minority of persons,” he says.
Compared to 30 years ago, the literacy rate has increased significantly to 80 per cent. “The trend has shown that literacy rates are improving and has been steadily improving over the years, despite any popular perception to the contrary. And literacy is highest, all our surveys and data shows us, among the youngest, which is the correct direction,” Mr. Riley emphasizes.
JAMAL has also provided training in various sectors such as the banana industry and the correctional institutions. Through a grant from the European Union, JAMAL provided a basic literacy programme to workers in the banana industry. “It was a tremendous success,” Mr. Riley says of the programme, which ended late last year.
As it regards training of correctional officers, Mr. Riley reports that more than 40 Correctional Officers benefited from the programme and are now currently working in the education programme within correctional institutions. Although that programme has also ended, Mr. Riley says there are plans to have it revisited.
With the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Mr. Riley emphasises that it is even more important for persons to become literate. “Education is the basis for national development and the higher the general level of education the better able we are and will be to progress to compete,” he says.
He notes that with the growth of CARICOM and the advent of the CSME, regional participation required that persons function at least at an acceptable level of education.
For now JAMAL depends to a large extent on volunteer teachers for the approximately 12,000 persons enrolled in the basic programme.
Nicola Cunningham is one such volunteer teacher. In the past five years as a teacher at the Bethel Baptist Church JAMAL centre, she says it has been rewarding to see persons who could not write their names now being able to complete entire application forms.
“There have been people who come to me to say thanks because when they went to the US Embassy for a visa they were given forms to fill out and they were able to do this on their own. People have been able to write to their families overseas for the first time because for years they have had people doing this for them,” she explains.
“Yes I have seen the benefits as people who couldn’t read can now pick up any newspaper in Jamaica and read about what is happening in Parliament.what Omar Davies said, what the Prime Minister is doing in Westmoreland, people who at the end of the day know that they can achieve something,” Miss Cunningham adds.
Turning to the issue of stigmatization, she said the students at JAMAL are aware of the level of stigma that is attached to the programme. She like, Mr. Riley hopes that this negative can be addressed in the near future.
“Some of my students say that they tell their friends or co-workers or people in the community that they are going to school and they deliberately do not say which school they are going to and when you ask why they say because people laugh at them and tell them it is ‘dunce’ people that go there,” Miss Cunningham says.
She further states, “when you listen to them and go in-depth in their background, you will find out that most of the time these are people who never got the start. They were not sent to school because they were bread-winners from the age of 12 or 13. They are now finally getting the chance to learn some of the fundamentals that most people mastered by the age of ten and 12, ” she says.
Persons interested in participating in JAMAL programmes may contact any of the 27 centres across the island or the Foundation’s Camp Road headquarters at: 928-5181.

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