Ministry increases efforts to stem illiteracy

Published: Wednesday | June 3, 2009

Colin Blair, Contributor

Father and son reading together.

Literacy is the foundation for success in education, training and national development. As a result, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has identified improved performance in literacy as one of its key areas of strategic focus. The aim is to have all students certified as literate before they exit primary schools and to prepare young adults for the world of work and lifelong learning.

To ensure this, the ministry has increased its efforts to support literacy teaching and learning through provisions that will have far-reaching impact nationally. These include a number of targeted interventions which have already been implemented through bilateral agreement between the Government and external funding agencies, and support from local institutions and corporations.

Among these initiatives are:

1. The Primary Education Support Project, which focused on effective curriculum implementation and under which a literacy programme for grades 1 to 3 - the Literacy 1-2-3 - was instituted.

2. The Expanding Educational Horizons Project, which offered professional development, technological and material support to 71 low-performing schools.

3. The Caribbean Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training Project has assisted teachers and students in 43 schools to improve reading instruction and literacy learning skills at grades 1 to 3.

4. Through partnership with the University of the West Indies, a literature-based instruction project was implemented in some schools.

Since 2007, the MOE has developed and implemented a National Literacy Strategy aimed at raising all students' performance in literacy to optimal levels. Under this new thrust, data on schools' performance over a three-year period were analysed to determine low-performing institutions. These schools have been provided with additional support through the services of literacy specialists. The specialists work closely with school leaders, teachers and students to identify particular challenges and individual student needs, in order to develop programmes and address deficits.

The schools that are doing reasonably well also benefit from literacy enrichment activities through the assistance given by regional literacy coordinators and territorial education officers. In general, teachers are supported through job-embedded professional development which focuses on reading diagnosis, developing customised intervention programmes, establishing a print-rich classroom environment, and selecting and utilising material, with sensitivity given to gender issues.

Final stage of development

A grade 4 to 6 literacy programme, which articulates with the Literacy 1-2-3 programme, is in its final stage of development. Diagnostic tools and instruments for pre-primary to grade 9 are also being prepared for system-wide use. These will enhance teachers' ability to develop customised programmes for corrective, remedial or enrichment solutions.

Stakeholder partnership is one of the key components of this new thrust - our key partner being parents. The ministry's literacy team has helped establish PTAs and create focus-group and community-outreach activities, as it engaged parents in discussions and provided tips on how to support schools and children's literacy endeavours.

The ministry's corporate partners have contributed to establishing enrichment centres to address the literacy, numeracy and special education needs of students. Additionally, members of the disapora are supporting local literacy activities by providing assistance with teacher training, donations of interesting teacher and student support material and assistance with infrastructure. Currently, there are 16 volunteers operating as counterparts to specialists in six parishes.

We recognise that, for these efforts to be successful, there must be a commitment by all to provide monetary, material or human support for literacy. In this regard, the ministry has already demonstrated its commitment by:

1. increasing the number of literacy specialists from 50 to 90

2. making provisions for students to benefit from interesting reading and instructional material and literacy-rich classrooms

3. providing extensive training and support to school leaders and classroom teachers with focus on research, literacy, leadership and the cascading of effective and innovative literacy practices

4. supporting parental involvement in children's literacy achievement

5. establishing partnerships with a wide cross section of stakeholders and utilising print and electronic media to raise the level of awareness of the importance of literacy to the individual and nation building.

You too must become involved as it is our belief that 'Every child can learn, every child must learn' and 'Together we can!'

Colin Blair is director of communications at the Ministry of Education.