10 March 2012


I was driving in my car the other day when it struck me how difficult it would be to drive these days if you were unable to read.  Not only that, in today's world we need to be able to read to interact with out TV, use a mobile phone, surf the internet, receive and send emails, go shopping, catch a bus, I could go on.  I recently heard the author Sue Townsend on the radio lamenting the fact that anyone can reach school leaving age, having spent 12 years in education, and not be able to read.  How helpless would it make you feel to not be able to decipher many, if any, words in world where we are surrounded by them?  You would, I imagine, struggle to fully function in society.

I remember when spending time in Greece many years ago how bewildering it was in the first weeks in the country trying to buy anything in a shop, catch a bus or work out what road I was on in a city.  However as I could read my own language learning a new alphabet was relatively easy and whilst I was no master of it, it certainly became easier to read/decipher over time.

Why is it then that we have an education system that a young person can stay in for 12 years and after all that time not have gained such an essential skill?  Is it the education system that is at fault?  If the child lives in a stressful environment, will they learn a wide enough vocabulary by school age to enable the next step, reading, to take place?  A good spoken vocabulary is one of the foundation blocks for reading.

Learning to read English is hard.  Although we have some rules in our language there are so many words that don't follow these and need to be learnt individually.  Is it any wonder that we have young people leaving school barely having learnt.  Perhaps it is not just the methods of teaching reading in schools that is the reason it's a much more complex issue, much of which occurs outside the school.  We wouldn't (and couldn't) build a house without solid foundations, so perhaps we need to look at the foundations skills for reading as well as the teaching of reading itself?

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