Tuesday 11 March 2014

analfabeto beats illiterate

We're been living with an eSpanish these last couple of months.  A few days ago, Barça was playing Real Valladolid in La Liga BBVA (that's soccer) at the same time as Ireland was playing Italy in the Six Nations Rugby.  Poor La Manch' was a bit conflicted: he wanted to go down to the local watering-hole and root for Ireland but he is a  Barça fan, so wanted to see his team getting trounced by the Lads from Leon.  If I'd gone with him, I'm sure he'd have opted for Rugby in a crowd in spite of having close to zero knowledge of the game. But I'm too much of a sofa-guy to cross the street to watch team sports.  There is a certain amount of good-natured rivalry here on the farm: my country is more corrupt than yours; our banking crisis is worse; our youth unemployment is crippling whereas yours is merely shameful; our weather is definitely crap; your chaps can't even play rugby.

La Manch' claimed that Spanish people never read books, while the Irish houses he's been in all have shelves of them. I asked him to show me the data for his unsupported assertion and he came up with some statistics showing that:
I cannot find a source for the relevant "average number of books bought per country per capita per annum". You may, and we all should, take these statistics with a shovel of salt. Maybe there are better quality or more newspapers in Spain and these make up the difference in book reading.  The last one is about as credible as the "fact" that 99% of Albanians regularly turned out to vote for the ruthless Enver Hoxha during his 40 years of red tyranny.  99% literacy in Ireland might be possible if you define literacy as the ability to a) recognise 26 different letters and b) sign a cheque with your name.  Functional literacy requires you, for example, to read the instructions on a bottle of medicine before dosing your sick child.  Getting that wrong could hazard your evolutionary future.  I've known a couple of farming neighbours who, when they owe me money, invite me to fill in the cheque for them to sign it,  I reckon they'd have trouble filling in some of the forms they get from the EU and the Department of Agriculture.  The shocking spelling and poor syntax that I get from many of my students at The Institute is a different level of inability - even the dyslexic ones can read a lab manual and an exam script; whatever they achieve towards answering the questions correctly.

The levels of adult illiteracy in Ireland is among the highest in Europe.  18 months ago, the government was set to reduce the number of illiterate adults from half a million to 300,000 by the end of 2016.  A Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study in 2010 found that 23% of Irish males are functionally illiterate, while 18% are significantly handicapped by their inability to read.  Successive governments have been complacent in the repetition of the tired old mantra that Ireland has the best education and that the multinationals which queue to set up their tech companies in the Republic do so because of the highly educated work-force.  When the Morrison Visa program allocated 16,000 work visas for Irish people in the early 1990s, my old boss in Boston put it quite graphically: "If I have an Irish lad on a building site and tell him that this piece of timber has to be sawn into three pieces of equal length, I can be sure that he'll be able to do it.  I have no such confidence in the average American high-school graduate".

That may be true at the top end of the labour market, but I think you'll find that many of the multilingual operatives in the many Irish-based call-centres are not Irish born or Irish educated. The multinationals may be tapping an educated work-force but few of them have green passports. It's much more likely that Apple, Google LinkedIn are here because we let them finagle their way out of most of the tiny amount of corporation tax that they should pay the Revenue Commissioners. If illiteracy is this bad in Ireland, I'll have to hope that people in Spain are choosing to read fewer books over the holidays because they prefer partying rather than that they cannot read books at all.

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