Combating illiteracy should go beyond reading and writing in Saudi Arabia

Only 6.81 percent of the population remains illiterate in Saudi Arabia in terms of reading and writing

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The Kingdom has been able to reduce the rate of illiteracy in nine years and as a result there is now only 6.81 percent of the population which remains illiterate. This is an outstanding accomplishment that not only achieves the goal announced and agreed upon in the Dakar Forum, but also achieves some of the aspirations of citizens as well as the national goals of education programs and the budgets allocated for improving education.

Reducing illiteracy or even eradicating it completely is good, but we must not consider it to be a great accomplishment in itself because the concept of literacy has changed. It is no longer the obsession of the elite to learn how to read and write; they no longer consider this to be an accomplishment. There are now other concepts of literacy in the modern age, the challenges it is facing, the accomplishments it requires, the standard that must be achieved for those who want to build their nations, to ensure the advancement of their people and to participate with mankind in giving a push to the wheel of civilization and progress.

In Japan, for example, the concept of illiteracy is synonymous with the inability to use the means of modern technology. If we accept this definition, we will need many years and intensive effort to eradicate such technological illiteracy, unless, of course, we consider visiting chat rooms or using WhatsApp as being conversant with technology. In other countries, illiteracy has become synonymous with knowing only a single language and the inability to be fluent in a language other than the national language. If we adopt this definition, we will realize that we need decades to eradicate illiteracy because, at the moment, the only foreign languages most Saudis speak are the few words they learn from their foreign drivers and maids.

Aside from these two definitions of illiteracy, there is also the illiteracy of thought that causes a person to be led by others without thinking for himself. He follows everyone who entices him to follow a certain sect, which in turn, leads him to a certain course of action. This is the most dangerous type of illiteracy and it includes extremist thought. Extremists strive to have an effect on our sons and daughters. Combating the illiteracy or inability to be able to think for oneself is more important than eradicating the illiteracy of being unable to read and write because the semi-literate person who is unable to think for himself is more dangerous to the Ummah (nation) than a person who is completely uneducated.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.

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