Literacy for an active citizenship
How big is the influence of a country's literacy-rate on its citizen's ability to participate in the political process and to take influence on their governments? How can “ by the means of education“ the chances for participation be risen for minorities in New Zealand or Great Britain or for women and the youth in the Arab world? These and other questions were asked and discussed at this year's LitCam Conference "Literacy and Active Citizenship" in the forefront of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
On two days participants from New Zealand (Guest of Honor of Frankfurt Book Fair 2012), Tunisia, Wales, India, Namibia and Germany offered speeches, project presentations and workshops on the topic from various perspectives. Thanks to the focus on education and civic participation and thereby meeting the interests of an international audience, the LitCam conference 2012 excelled last year's conference in quantity and quality of discussion. "A government, which fails to educate all of its citizens, does not only fail its citizens but society itself", said Karen Sewell, former Secretary in the Ministry of Education of New Zealand pointed. In the meantime demands would be rising, continued Sewell: Education as a "stable storehouse of knowledge" had to be replaced by an education enabling lifelong learning. Without this capacity not only participation in the process of political decision making would be at stake but the integration in society as such. Vimlendu Jha, founder of the Indian youth organization Swechha, warned "not to be romantic about education". One must not lose sight of the goal itself, which was political participation, Mr. Jha continued. "Active citizenship is not about having great learners but about having great citizens."
No chance of being heard
Dr. Rebecca Ndjoze-Ojo, former Deputy Minister of Education of Namibia, and Belabbes Benkredda, human rights activist and founder of the Munathara Initiative, illustrated how far societies can differ with concern to the access to education. "If you happen to be female and young, you have zero chances to be heard", addressed Benkredda one of the basic problems of democratic movements in the Arab world. "Which is a tragedy", Benkredda continued, as young people would make up 60 to 70 percent of the population. Benkredda's organization tries to integrate young women into the public dialogue using internet based video platforms. Rebecca Ndjoze-Ojo, on the other side, is worried about young men as their grade of education would often be a problem in Namibia. "We live at risk that our daughters get married to a bunch of uneducated boys who will abuse them."
Identity, education, participation are closely connected
New Zealand author Alan Duff and Garry Nicholas, National Coordinator for reading Communities, Wales, talked about the challenge to get the books to the people and places where they are needed. Duff, who fights with his own reading project "Duffy Books in Homes" to make books accessible for underprivileged children, made some lasting experiences: His first attempts to open up the world of reading to children by presenting them with used were rejected. This was, according to the author, "understandable". If someone received nothing but leftovers all of his life he will not react well if being offered breadcrumbs once more, Duff argued. Duff, being a son of a European father and a Maori mother, and the Welsh mother-tongue speaker Nicholas underlined the close connection