Promoting Reading in Developing Countries – The International Reading Association Inc., copyright 1996.
Publisher: International Reading Association
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
When I signed up for the August Social Justice Challenge I didn’t put a lot of effort into searching for my own books and instead went with some of the recommendations from the website. I was a bit wary when I received Promoting Reading in Developing Countries as it was published in 1996. It is an academic work, made up of journal articles by various scholars, and I was afraid that the information would be a bit out of date in 2010. The book is published by the International Reading Association and is edited by one of the contributing authors, Vincent Greaney. According to the website of the World Bank, Greaney is a former primary school teacher from Dublin and has been responsible for putting together various World Bank projects, especially in Asia. The website does not specify if these were all literary related, but given Greaney’s background, it wouldn’t be surprising. I am in full support of all their literary efforts, but I am always a little bit leery of anything with the name of the World Bank attached to it.
As I said, I was worried that some of the material covered in this collection might be irrelevant today, but I found that such was not the case. There were a few articles that focused on specific, date relevant examples, but these were not in the majority. These articles were covering the experiences of introducing National Reading Plans in Columbia and Venezuela. The information contained within them was not irrelevant, but did leave me with a hankering for more up to date information on the specific examples. I was especially curious as to whether Venezuelan literacy has made any greater gains under the Socialist regime of Hugo Chavez than it had made under earlier governments.
Some of the other topics covered in the book included the lack of, and hardships faced by, local publishers in developing countries; use of book flood programs; the pros and cons of book donation; the state of textbooks outside the western world; and a look at general research into children’s literacy. I found all of the articles to be informative. The book helped to open my eyes to the complexity of the issues and showed me what a limited understanding we, as westerns, have as regards the educating of children in other cultures and societies. There is so much we overlook. We forget about the lack of market potential when we consider local publishers in developing countries. When we hear that a school in a developing nation has a library with an enormous holding, we don’t ever consider that nine out of ten of those books might be obsolete textbooks written in foreign languages. When we read of low literacy rates in a given country, we don’t consider the fact that the teachers themselves might well be illiterate.
“Other schemes have included sending to developing countries study guides without texts, outdated travel guides, thousands of copies of obscure titles for which there was minimal need, indices for missing reference materials, and outdated computer manuals. Known in the professional jargon…as “dumping”, the practice of sending materials such as these has been undertaken by [those] who believe that ‘any book is better than no book at all.’” Page 167, Promoting Reading in Developing Countries
Think of the number of people who donate books the way they donate food at Christmas time, scavenging in the back of the cupboard to find the long expired cans of string beans, cream corn and beefaroni. These are just a few examples of the misunderstandings that westerners have in regards to literacy and education in the developing world.
Greaney drives home the importance of literacy in the advancement and development of societies. He discusses the enabling power of literacy and how those able to read are able to better obtain information on social, cultural, economic and health issues that are of such great importance to themselves and their families.
While this is not an exciting read, it is a very informative one. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to further their understanding of illiteracy in the developing world and clear up some of their own ignorance or misconceptions surrounding the issue.