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Quick action needed to arrest illiteracy

Quick action needed to arrest illiteracy


By Jude Knight

Diagnostic Reading Test exposes abnormality at Grade 2

The lead story on the front page of last week’s Searchlight Newspaper under the caption “Can’t Read” had a very disturbing ring to it – Grade Two Students Not Up To Scratch.

At one Kingstown school it was revealed that more than 50 per cent of its Grade Two students were unable to read at their class level. This was found to be so after a recently conducted National Diagnostic Reading Test.{{more}}

These obviously disappointing results prompted the Headteacher to call an urgent meeting with the parents of the children affected. He said: “We need an emergency intervention strategy to arrest and address this important concern.”

This quick and positive response by the Headteacher shows his willingness to get to the root of the problem and correct it at an early stage.

In fact, after discussions with persons from other schools, this startling statistic seems not to be confined to this school alone, but could very well be the figure across the board. Teachers claim that before this Diagnostic Test was introduced students were going through the primary school system and couldn’t even write or spell their names.

Illegible “nothings”

Some teachers said that while correcting Common Entrance papers, they noticed that some students would scrawl some illegible “nothings” on their exam papers. This, they said, has been going on for years and isn’t some recent problem.

Last Friday, Senator St. Claire Leacock and host of the New Times Call-In programme, E.G. Lynch, were heard putting their own little narrow-minded political spin to this very serious issue.

I heard Senator Leacock saying that the students are in Grade Two now so it means that they started school during the regime of the Unity Labour Party. What Nonsense! For years children were going to Grade 6 not being able to write their names. Trust me, this is nothing to gloat about! It affects everybody! If anything, Government should be applauded for recognising that there is in fact a problem and it efforts in trying to arrest it at an early stage by introducing the National Reading Diagnostic Test. What the host and guest of this radio programme should have done was investigate and discuss the root cause of this problem and how can we resolve it expeditiously.

This abnormality must be quite depressing for these little ones who often times find it difficult to appropriately express themselves. Most times their attitudes and behaviour in class leaves a lot to be desired, not because they are wicked or wild, but as a direct result of not being able to keep up with their peers. Some think like this: “If we can’t keep up, we interrupt!” This not only frustrates the teacher but also the students who are trying to excel. Just think of a child who cannot read sitting in a class with over 40 children. He cannot answer any questions set down on his test paper, not because he doesn’t know the answers, but simply because he just can’t read the questions! What else is he to do to get the attention of the class but be disruptive? How does the teacher respond? Send him out of the class and at the end of the day he learns nothing!

These are the questions that must be answered:

• What exactly are the problems?

• Is the curriculum not being followed, or, does it need revisiting?

• Are some of the teachers not up to standard?

• Are our teachers trained to teach Phonics?

• Should the Ministry of Education send teachers who are found wanting to seek further training?

• Are teachers trained enough to identify children with special problems like dyslexia?

• Should the Ministry of Education remove those who are falling behind and create special classes to give them specialised and individual attention?

• Are parents not making enough time to read to and assist in their children’s education?

• Is the pre-school system not working?

• Are these children from dysfunctional homes?

• Should we do the assessment at, say, Grade 1 to identify and streamline strugglers at an earlier age?

Although Grade 1 is a bit early to fully assess a child’s reading ability, but any properly trained and alert teacher must be able to detect certain negative traits in that child’s deportment. Teachers must get serious and get off their cell phone during classes and attend to their charges.

This abnormality shouldn’t be discourse for anyone’s political soapbox. We must find a solution and fast, lest in a few year’s time these same students will be out of school with nothing to show and as illiterate as before they entered. Unable to find jobs, these same folks will soon be sitting at the street corners selling drugs, stealing and terrorising and blaming others for their incapacity. We better start working now!