Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Our children are struggling to read

Published:Tuesday | December 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM


A few weeks ago, a teacher-in-training informed me that as part of his undergraduate studies, he has to design and implement a reading programme for a group of grade-seven students at an inner-city high school. The students, he said, are reading at the pre-primer level.

At first, I thought he was certainly exaggerating the students’ reading abilities. However, after meeting the students myself and interacting with them, I realised that their literacy skills are just as described.

When I pointed at words such as ‘get’ and ‘dig’, they were unable to identify them. Words like ‘pot’, ‘hop’ and ‘up’ even puzzled them. They looked at every decodable word with great wonder, unable to segment and blend unassisted.

Truly, I was moved to tears as I watched them mill around the classroom, jovial and enthusiastic, but woefully deficient. I could not understand how we – teachers, parents and the society at large – could have failed these children.

Given our system of automatic social promotion, where students naturally move on to the next grade level every September, these children are sure to transition to grade eight in 2020 without making any significant strides in literacy. It is unlikely, too, that they will progress in the content areas when they are struggling with word identification and recognition. They are bound to be mired in failure.


I know that the school has a reading teacher, but given the great number of students who struggle with basic literacy, one is extremely inadequate. Moreover, the school’s dilemma is further compounded by the limited instructional resources available.

The reading room, for example, is almost bare. Except for three charts with information on parts of speech, an air-conditioning unit, a whiteboard, and the scant chairs and desks, there is nothing inside to engage the students, or, at the very least, invite them into the space.

Our children need help, and we cannot wait until another frustrated teacher launches into a tirade before we render support.