Monday, June 16, 2008

What Literacy Has Meant For Me

“Once upon a time, there lived a family of bears in the wood…”

Those were probably the words my father once quoted about The Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ story. Back in my childhood years, my father often read me story books. He even wrote the translation of the stories if it was written in a language other than my mother tongue, Malay. I didn’t remember reading at all that time. I simply just listened to whatever he said. I could only read after my kindergarten year. The stories that I still remember until today were Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and of course, The Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

When I attended kindergarten, I learnt to read, speak and write Malay language and the lingua franca, English. The hardest lesson for me then was writing essays. It was really hard for me to think of words and join them together to form sentences. I couldn’t see the point of writing longer sentences or essays while I already knew how to read, spell and write any words that I wanted. However, being in an education system that demanded highly of excellence in exams, I tried my best and I barely managed to get a B for my Malay writing for my final exam in primary school.

Nevertheless, I didn’t quit learning. In my secondary school I was introduced to literature, a piece of art in linguistics. My teachers fed me with a lot of reading materials for literature. I disliked the classic literature mostly. I was unmotivated to learn because of the difficult words and writing style of classic literature. Yet, I had to study them and make commentaries based on them during exams. However, I still had some interest in reading modern literature. I enjoyed reading the short stories and assessing poetry. Intrigued by how well the writers produce a literary work, I started to write. I wrote diary entries and poems. I discovered a new world where I could actually spread my wings and speak freely. Modern literature was the only part of literature that kept me going and passed through the exams, then.

My college life brought me into a different perspective of writing. I had numerous assignments. In order to complete my International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma I had to submit nearly 50 lab reports, 3 mathematics tasks, and 5 big research papers. Whether I liked it or not, I had to write. During those times, I realized that writing is the fundamental process of studies. Writing was not merely a test of language anymore. It was more like a form of knowledge test whereby I put everything that I knew into words. Even the lecturers then were looking forward to see the gist of my writing rather than the language itself.

World literature subject that I took changed my view on literature a lot. All this while, my literature lesson always came with a textbook where I memorized all the details of the literary research for the exam. In college, I was required to analyze the literature materials on my own and present them in my own words. The materials that captured my attention the most were Things Fall Apart written by Chinua Achebe and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Drawn into the culture of Africans and to the vision of American Dreams, the literature taught me to appreciate not only the literary works but to appreciate the message conveyed in the work itself. I began to have an interest to study customs, cultures and values of other people from different parts of the world. Hence, by the end of the course, I managed to write a comparison study between these two novels, particularly about their culture.

The assignment needed me to reflect deeply on people cultures’ and values. Thus, in order to write, I had to read more to understand people. Indirectly, the assignments triggered my awareness of further reading as much as the writing. It was the assignment that I valued most as it contains judgments generated by my original ideas and thoughts.

Meanwhile, most of my other assignments relied on facts and accuracies. My lab reports for example, required me to have definite aims and objectives to be achieved. Whatever results that I got, the conclusion should meet the aim of the experiments. Any misconduct that produced wrong results should be well evaluated. However, for my mathematics assignments, the lecturers expected me to communicate with examiners not solely by numbers and charts but by using words as well. I was blurred at the beginning. I never thought that explanation in words was as important as numbers in mathematics tasks.

Consequently, regardless of what I wrote, either by using facts or presenting my own ideas, writing always aims for the writer to be creative. Thus in my opinion, literacy might mean ability to read and write but being a literate person does not mean just being able to read and write. A literate person should be able to think critically and respond reasonably as well. At the moment I’m grateful that I can read and write. I also have the greatest gift from God which is used to think and ponder. The gift is my brain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Honestly speaking, you have a good intro there. However, the focus of your writing is rather vague. Why? I'd say, it's because you're trying to explain about literacy, and literacy is such a big focus that covers both reading and writing.

Maybe, just maybe. If you selected only one area of literacy and elaborate well with more emphasis on it, I'd think it would produce a better piece of writing. *wink*