Monday, September 5, 2011

Nipping Illiteracy in the Bud

Parents who read story books to their children, have books in their homes, and themselves read, ensure that their children have the best chance to learn to read. Once their children begin to read, they listen to them and assist them, opening the doors to a world of books and information. Parents who can’t read do few of these things, so their children are among the 70% of Jamaican children who aren’t ready to learn to read when they enter grade 1.

What happens in grade 1? Often, classes are too big. How can a teacher possibly give individual attention to any of 50 children in her class, especially when many of them exhibit behaviour problems? Learning to read is supplemented by endless spelling lists, but some children don’t even know their alphabet and can make nothing of a spelling list. Children who’ve never been turned on to reading must certainly be turned off in these circumstances. Many of them never learn to read at all, so are denied access to a world of information. In turn, they become parents. On the whole, parents who cannot read have more children than literate parents, compounding the problem.

What is the Ministry of Education’s response? In his International Literacy Day Message¹, September 8, 2009, the Honourable Minister of Education Hon. Andrew Holness, M.P. stated “The Ministry’s National Literacy Programme for the 2009 – 2010 school year will see fifty (50) new cluster-based Literacy Specialists being deployed across the island. Twelve (12) of the literacy specialists will be assigned specifically to provide support at the secondary level… The Ministry of Education has budgeted $500 million dollars this year to bring the number of literacy specialists up to 90…” How far can these specialists reach in 800 schools at the primary level? These disadvantaged children need individual attention on a daily basis.

The Minister of Education has also made pronouncements about giving a book to every child at birth, but will that solve the problem? Not if the parents cannot read and have little respect for books. Along with books, children need caring adults—I will call them ‘Reading Aunts and Uncles, or Reading Big Brothers and Sisters’—who love books and are willing to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day reading to a small group of 3 to 5-year-olds; or listening to an older child reading. This is where every literate person can help, one child at a time. The challenge is to find these children and make a start. In future blogs, I will make suggestions about games which prepare children for reading and methods of teaching of reading. Let’s get a discussion going. Please click on the word ‘comments’ which will take you to a different page. Enter what you have to say in the box. Looking forward to hearing from you.


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