Functional illiteracy or illiteracy of the literate

Zvonko Davidovic


The future of one country are the generations to come, the youth who will one day rule the country. These generations are already in school benches or university assembly halls, and are on the move to actively engage in all social processes starting from the formation of the family to the creation of the state and its future, and thus the future of the people living there. Every country that takes care of its future devotes a great deal of attention to the education of these generations to come, but also to the conditions in which they develop.

Literacy, as a first and fundamental step towards education and human emancipation in general, is one of the basic human rights, which as early as 1948, as a part of the right to education, was incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later, and due to the development of humanity and technology, the same right has been extended to a new level of literacy that also includes informatics literacy.

Despite the great technological advancement and accumulation of knowledge over the last twenty years, in which the world has progressed more technologically than in the last two hundred years, the state of literacy of the population is alarming and account for almost one fifth of the total population. Recognizing illiteracy as a global problem as early as year 2000, UNESCO has outlined several major educational goals, reducing illiteracy by 50 per cent over the next 15 years, equating educational opportunities for women with men and enabling education for as many children as possible.

Despite such bold and resolutely planned plans, a vast number of countries have failed in the set goals due to various factors and circumstances, such as wars, enormous population growth, displacement, religious customs etc. Today, about 20 percent of the total population is still illiterate, or about 780 million people, and 75 million children do not attend school and education is unavailable to them, which is a global problem.

In Europe these figures are smaller and the situation with illiteracy is somewhat better, but far from as good as would be expected. In the European Union, illiteracy is around 1%, but the fact that up to 20% of the population has difficulty reading and writing is very concerning. This situation in our region is more alarming, and according to the data of UNESCO in 2012, the number of illiterate people in Serbia is 165,000, but up to 850,000 never attended school or completed only a few years of elementary school, in BiH illiteracy is 15%, in Montenegro 8,000, while in Macedonia the number of illiterate people is 43,000 that are older than 15 years of age.

But the situation in the region, if the data is carefully read and compared, is far from good if we take into account the functional literacy of the population. Here the situation is destructive and catastrophic and reflects both the educational system, and the educational, working, democratic and moral habits and principles of the population.

Functional literacy is defined as a concept that includes knowledge, skills and values ​​that enable the individual to control his / her own life in a quality manner, performing basic civic duties and solving various problems at the workplace, in the family and in social life in general.

In addition to functional illiteracy, it is also important to mention media literacy, ie illiteracy, which, according to the index of media literacy, Macedonia ranked at the bottom of 35 European countries along with Turkey. Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Estonia are the top ranked countries according to the index of media literacy, and the worst ranked are Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, BiH, Albania, Turkey and Macedonia. What is particularly striking and interesting in the ranking is that Balkan countries are the most vulnerable in Europe for the impact of fake news, which is a direct consequence of education deficiencies, low media freedoms and distrust among people. Macedonia out of a possible 100 points is ranked in the last place with only 10 points. The index or ranking of media literacy is mostly based on Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders media freedom media indicators, PISA student results, the United Nations e-participation indicator and citizens’ trust according to Eurostat.
When, on the other hand, the PISA results of students are in question, the situation is devastating. At PISA 2000, out of 41 participating countries in the study, in reading comprehension and in mathematical literacy, we were on the 38th position, and in literacy in the sciences 36th position. At PISA 2015, from 72 countries participating in the study for reading comprehension and literacy in the natural sciences we were 69th, and in mathematical literacy Macedonia ranked 68th. These results are devastating and such a rating is even worse and makes the situation catastrophic when the results are compared with other countries. These results show that the educational system, with which it has been experimenting for a long time, has not only failed to improve the educational process, but it has also regressed, and the results compared to 2000 show only a decline in the quality of education which as a product gives functionally illiterate students who further become functionally illiterate citizens of this society.

In addition to all these results and indices that are devastating, it is necessary to mention that in Macedonia we have a number of 7,000 regular readers. This shows that only a small number of the population in our country has the habit of reading and finish a book, and that most of them, or the other two million citizens have not read a book since they left their school desks, nor by their example and behavior contribute to the correct upbringing and education of their children. If this is added to the fact that in almost all cities in Macedonia, with the exception of Skopje, there is not one bookstore in which you can buy fiction or other literature, the situation becomes extremely bad.

When you depict or translate such results and conditions into the definition of functional literacy or illiteracy, the present in our society and the social processes that are unfolding become clear, as well as some of the reasons that lead to them. To repeat once again, functional literacy is defined as a concept that implies knowledge, skills and values ​​that enable the individual to control his / her own life in a quality manner, to perform basic civic duties and to solve various problems at the workplace, in the family and in social life in general.

If all the results show that functional illiteracy in Macedonia covers almost 75 percent of students, if 99 percent of the population does not read and does not improve its skills, and media illiteracy is high and is in the same rank with Turkey, that means that the individual, ie the largest number of citizens Macedonia has no knowledge, skills or values ​​that allow them to control their own lives in a quality manner, in other words – they can be easily manipulated, exploited and marginalized. This state of the population is one of the reasons for the situation in the society that has divided it in the past twenty years. This is precisely the situation in which the majority of the population does not have the necessary knowledge, skills and values ​​to control their lives and give their lives the necessary quality, and in doing so to fulfill the basic civic duties, but also to use the basic civil rights has led to such a condition in which the state is considered to be the property of the political party in power, and the state of the institutions that are captured for a normal one. Only in a society in which people are functionally illiterate there is a lack of interest in situations that are far from normal and abnormal slowly but surely becomes normal. Only in such societies, in which the literate are actually illiterate, it is possible to create totalitarian systems and one person to create a future for all in a society in which only a few benefit and gain a comfortable and normal life, and everyone else is a machinery for voting or protesting.

If all of this is added to the last part of the definition of functional literacy, that is, illiteracy in our case, and that is the knowledge and the ability to solve various problems at the workplace, family, or society in general, the causes become clearer, or part of them, why it is possible for individuals, which consider the state and institutions to be their own, to emerge for their interests and richness, without having a reaction on the part of the society, and such a situation will last for decades.

This state of functional illiteracy allows people to experience apathy, disinterest, fear, which in turn creates servants and flatterers, an effect of so-called sunflowers in general, in every sphere of social life. The saying “Illiterate people make a powerful country” was not at all pointless.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik