A culture of reading needed
THE EDITOR, Sir:
THE UNPUBLISHED results of the supplemental Grade Four Literacy Test should be a cause for concern not only for the Ministry of Education, but for all Jamaicans. Of the more than 20,000 students who sat the exam, only 44 per cent achieved mastery. The majority of our students are still struggling to master this language activity. What I found most alarmingly and disappointing was that one-third of all candidates who sat this exam were doing so for the fourth time. Of this number, 16 per cent was still at the non-mastery level. Appalling!
The issue of the continued low performance of our students in the Grade Four Literacy Test stems from the fact that as a society early or emergent literacy is not the norm. Reading is a process in which we construct meaning from print. A major part of our dilemma is that we are not a book-friendly/reading society. The plain truth is we have not developed nor do we strive to foster a reading culture.
The process of emergent literacy begins before the child reaches school age. This process actually begins in the womb. Most children by age three should be able to identify simply words and signs. Of course, this is only achieved through the interaction with peers and adults in the life of the child.
I suspect that there is a deficiency in how we allocate our scarce resources. Emphasis, in my opinion, should be placed on early-childhood education, a fact that is being highlighted by the continued below-par performance of our primary-school students. If the support and foundation are given to the early-childhood sector, where phonics should be stressed, then we would not be reaping these substandard results. What is clearly needed is a balanced literacy programme that entails the use of a variety of teaching approaches, strategies and materials to teach children to become proficient readers.
Reading opens the door to a global world of information, fulfilment and enjoyment. Let us all help our students by providing them with that key.