August 4, 2000
In the July 30 edition of the Sunday Stabroek, consumer columnist, Ms Eileen Cox compared the life of the Essequibo child with that of the Georgetown child. There are no libraries or playgrounds in Essequibo, she wrote, and in the holidays children are seen idling or watching television. Unfortunately, in the city too plenty of children can be seen idling or watching television during the vacation, despite the availability of some playgrounds and access to library facilities. Providing an opportunity is no guarantee that children will avail themselves of it.
Children no less than adults seem to have lost the art of amusing themselves; they tend to wait passively to be entertained, rather than create their own entertainment. And as for reading, that has long since ceased to be a pastime. It is associated only with text-books in a classroom context. One gets the impression with the younger generation that their reading skills are so rudimentary, that pleasure is not expected from reading, and indeed is not obtained from it. For them reading is work.
And for their parents, reading means text-books. They would buy their offspring new sneakers for school long before they would consider spending money on books (other than set texts), and they would waste their hard-earned wages on pernicious extra lessons, long before they would buy their children something to read. There is no malice in this on the part of parents; it is simply that they do not know the importance of their children having access to a variety of reading matter from a very young age.
We now have all these wonderfully rehabilitated school buildings up and down the coast; what we don't have inside them is a full complement of wonderfully qualified teachers. What parents do not realize is that inadequate teaching can be partly compensated for by wide reading. A child who has the reading habit, and spends his/her holidays reading will eventually succeed educationally, even if the class teacher has an uncertain grasp of English grammar and a very impoverished educational background.
The Ministry of Education, while recognizing the problem of poor reading habits, has been very slow in responding to it. And it is nowhere near as difficult to rectify as the teacher shortage. First of all, the message needs to be transmitted to parents that reading is vital for their children's educational future. There are myriad ways in which that can be done - through meetings with parents in the schools, parent-teacher associations, billboard ads, and most of all, television advertisements. Whatever the medium, the Ministry should keep hammering away the message to adults that children have to read.
After that, there is the question of how to make available reading matter in places like the villages along the Essequibo coast, for example. This too, is surely not an insuperable problem if a little thought is applied. There are all kinds of possibilities. The formation of reading circles during the vacation in villages, whereby an enterprising parent or resident invites mothers and their smaller children to story-time sessions where they can listen to stories being read and look at books, is one of them. The patronage of some of the larger business entities could be sought for the cost of the books, which would not involve an unconscionable outlay in terms of expenditure. There could be morning reading sessions too for older students, where the better readers could read for themselves, and the weaker ones could listen to a story being read and then try it for themselves, perhaps out loud with the help of whoever is conducting the session. There could be competitions to find the best readers, with books as prizes, etc., etc.
In the urban areas, leading members of the community could be asked to go into schools to read a story to primary school children, and reinforce the message that children must read - and not just text books.
The reading deficiency of the present generation of school children is not an inevitability. Dealing with the problem is less a question of money than it is of a bit of organization and imagination.
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