I was born in one of Central Africa’s beautiful countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am not only a Congolese-Australian but also a citizen of the world.
Because of the many challenges that my fellow Congolese and I were and are still facing, in 2002 I decided to leave the mosaic country with a one-minded vision: to ‘help the Congo and the world overcome some of the most significant challenges: conflicts, human rights abuses, poverty, and illiteracy.
In the process of finding the ways and means to fulfil my vision, I found myself in Tasmania in May 2008. I was like a sheep laying down in green pastures and sitting beside quiet waters due to the countless opportunities for me.
From the first few minutes after landing, there was a common trend – every information was in a written form. I needed to make sense of every information, but my limited English language was a barrier to overcome. Knowing that written language and spoken language are two inseparable twins, their acquisition was not only necessary in managing the daily demands of my new life as a migrant in Tasmania but being able to unwrap the different opportunities in my new home. As a native French speaker, written and spoken English were, therefore, a must in any attempt of exploring the different opportunities that Tasmania and Australia had to offer.
But how, then, could I unwrap the opportunities I have not explored? How can I explore the possibilities in a language I could not speak, read or write? How can I speak, read and write English without someone teaching me? How could I learn or how can anyone teach unless they are willing to?
In my quest for answers to the questions, the sentiment of French author, Victor Hugo who said ’every child whom we teach is a man whom we gain’ which my parents echoed since my early years never stopped resonating in my mind. As a consequence, I concluded that the only way of doing something about solving the Congo’s and world issues, working for the cause of peace and equal rights between men and women, was through education.
While learning English and completing a return to study course at TasTAFE, I also completed my Year 12 studies at Guilford Young College in 2009 and prepared for university. Five years later, I completed a post-grad degree at the University of Tasmania.
You are probably by now admiring how far I have come or even congratulating me for the efforts made over the last few years. I am grateful; however, I feel challenged by the fact that our beautiful island Tasmania is still struggling with one of the catalysts to change children into men – literacy.
It is not a secret that Tasmania has a ‘wicked’ literacy problem with almost one in every two fellow Tasmanians being unable to make of sense of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet and the relationship between them through spoken English. How can Tasmania reverse this trend? Contrary to when I came to Australia, the question this time is not personal, but the quest for an answer is every Tasmanian’s responsibility. I too have a role to play in the making of Tasmania as a ‘modern living Shakespeare’ and have the duty to contribute to the debate.
Drawing from my story, to tackle literacy problems in Tasmania, a preventative measure consists of making literacy an essential part of the socialisation process from childhood to adulthood. We cannot underestimate, the influence of our immediate environment (parents, relatives and even daily television shows) in developing our spoken language skills. Likewise, the same agencies have the indisputable power to facilitate the ‘knowledge of the code which is the spoken language upon the page’. Don’t we often say that prevention is better than cure?
As a remedy to Tasmania’s wicked literacy problem, one of the solutions is finding and linking the reason of literacy to the development of adult learners. Where there is a will, there is a way. If one really wants to do something, one can. So often, we are quick to claim the 48 % of us do not show that will. But how can they read and write English unless they are taught them? If 48 % of us are functionally illiterate, we contribute to the problem. If Tasmania is illiterate, we are illiterate. Will you be part of the problem or the solution? Start learning, educating and teaching today!
Cedrick Kayembe Mulumba is a motivational speaker, teacher, advocate of social justice and a PhD candidate with Deakin University. Here Cedrick writes for Communicating: The Heart Of Literacy, a public dialogue about communication, literacy, enablement, collaboration and relational trust – find more at chattermatters.com.au.