Il­lit­er­acy dis­grace

Waikato Times - - Comment & Opinion -

The emerg­ing group in our pop­u­la­tion who have a low abil­ity to read is a dis­grace to our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Do we have pri­vate, char­tered and in­te­grated schools who push il­lit­er­ates on to the state schools?

It’s ob­vi­ous that read­ing is an es­sen­tial skill needed by cit­i­zens in this mod­ern com­puter-rid­den so­ci­ety.

That skill of de­ci­pher­ing squig­gles on a page to pro­duce lan­guage has not changed for thou­sands of years and the teach­ing of read­ing must be honed to per­fec­tion by now. So why are chil­dren going through years of school and still leav­ing un­able to read?

There are sev­eral an­swers. One is ge­netic where some hu­man brains are un­able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the many squig­gle shapes (dyslexia). An­other is where chil­dren are not ex­posed to qual­ity lan­guage and books in the com­pany of an adult. An­other is the lack of sys­tem­atic teach­ing of the skill through ne­olib­er­al­ism’s ef­fect on teacher com­pe­ti­tion.

Learn­ing to read takes time for some chil­dren while oth­ers with brain and/or par­ent ad­van­tage pick it up quickly. The skills needed for read­ing English are many and thus teach­ers need to cover them all. They are: whole word recog­ni­tion, es­pe­cially the hun­dred most-used words. Al­pha­bet sounds (which can ig­nore some let­ters) so the ini­tial let­ter of an un­known word can give a clue to its con­text use. Use il­lus­tra­tions as a clue to con­tent. Phon­ics which apply to groups of sim­i­lar struc­tured words al­though there are some ex­cep­tions.

So if we know that ac­quir­ing all these skills pro­duces a lit­er­ate per­son, that is one who ex­pands their knowl­edge through read­ing books etc. And this has worked for hun­dreds of years, why is our pub­lic school sys­tem fail­ing some pupils? Could the train­ing of our be­gin­ning teach­ers be in­ad­e­quate?

Peter H Wood


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