JIS News

Story Highlights

  • National Literacy Coordinator, Dr. Andre Hill, is confident that the country will attain its target of 85 per cent literacy at the primary level by next year.
  • He informs JIS News that overall students’ performance has been steadily improving since the Grade Four Literacy Test was first administered nationally in 2009.
  • The Ministry of Education uses the Grade Four Literacy Test to determine literacy rates across the country.

National Literacy Coordinator, Dr. Andre Hill, is confident that the country will attain its target of 85 per cent literacy at the primary level by next year.

He informs JIS News that overall students’ performance has been steadily improving since the Grade Four Literacy Test was first administered nationally in 2009.

The Ministry of Education uses the Grade Four Literacy Test to determine literacy rates across the country.

The figure in 2013 for mastery at the Grade four examination, administered in public schools, was 76.4 per cent, an increase over the 72 per cent in 2012.

Dr. Hill further explains that based on the cumulative percentage mastery of students’ performance at the grade four test on the first and second sittings, the Ministry is on its way to achieving its target, as the percentage mastery for 2013, with combined figures from both sittings, was 83 per cent.

He notes that if the statistics continue on its upward trajectory, it is expected that by 2015, the cumulative results would have surpassed the set goal of 85 per cent.

“We are, therefore, more than on target in terms of meeting our goal. And I do believe that when 2015 comes, we will be celebrating our 85 per cent achievement and looking forward to sustaining and building on that,” he says.

Under its National Comprehensive Literacy Programme, which is embedded in the primary education system, the Ministry of Education has been making considerable headway in improving literacy across the country.

As part of the programme, which commenced in 2007, a National Literacy Coordinator, Regional Literacy Coordinators, Literacy Specialists and Reading Coaches have been tasked to work directly with primary schools across the six regions.

“At Grades one to three, we have the ‘Literacy one, two, three’ programme, which is geared towards developing literacy skills in early reading for that level,” Dr. Hill informs.

He notes that at Grades four to five, there is a similar initiative called, ‘Literacy four, five, six’, which is designed to “advance in students those skills that they would have garnered from the earlier grades.”

Dr. Hill adds that each primary school is assigned a School-based Literacy Coordinator, who is responsible for managing all literacy based activities within the school environment.

In addition, Jamaica has received significant assistance from the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), since 2013.

Dr. Hill informs that since last year, the organisation has contributed US$3 million to assist the Ministry in improving literacy at the primary level.

“What started last year was a special joint initiative between the US Government and the Jamaican Government, in efforts to buttress the Ministry’s National Literacy Programme. They have assisted us in providing both the materials and human resources needed to hit the field full force, over the remaining lifespan of the programme,” he explains to JIS News.

As part of this intervention, the National Literacy Team, with assistance from the USAID, has been providing direct support to 450 primary schools across the island through the deployment of 90 Reading Coaches at Grades one to three.

Twelve other Literacy Specialists have also been assigned to 48 secondary schools to provide support in the teaching of English Language at Grades seven to nine.  Between August 2013 and April 2014, approximately 1,500 teachers across the system benefitted from training by the team of reading coaches or specialists.

They also engaged over 1,300 parents in seminars designed to equip them with skills, so that they can better assist in the literacy/language development of their children.

The Education Ministry is training another 66 literacy specialists this year, with US$1.4 million in funding support from the USAID.

Work plan priorities for the first year of the intervention focused on three fundamental areas of reading instruction,  namely phonemic awareness, phonics instruction and vocabulary development.

Specialists were trained in the fundamental areas of literacy of assessment and diagnosis in reading.

“For the second year of the work plan, they’ll be focusing on reading comprehension, reading fluency and strategies and skills for the development of writing among our students,” Dr. Hill informs.

The 66 literacy specialists and another 12 literacy officers employed to the Ministry are being equipped to train school-based literacy coordinators.

“We particularly target the teachers, because when we train them, they’re expected to go back to their schools and train their colleagues in any one of the fundamental areas of literacy that we would have trained them in,” he explains.

Dr. Hill is confident that the work being done will undoubtedly lead to further improvements in literacy among students, supporting Government’s strategic priority of human capital development.

In the meantime, as the country joins the rest of the world in observing International Literacy Day on September 8, Dr. Hill is encouraging all stakeholders, including parents and community members to spend time reading to their children.

“Literacy doesn’t begin in the classroom, literacy begins in the home. The first teacher a child has is the parent and so what happens at home determines, to a larger extent, the future prospects of that child,” he says.

“So, I say to parents and community members, spend some time reading to your children, encourage them to take up a book and read, engage them in discussions about what is happening in the society, find help for them if you suspect that they have a learning challenge, and speak to the classroom teacher and let them tell you how your child is doing,” Dr. Hill says.

International Literacy Day is being observed under the theme, ‘Literacy and Sustainable Development’.

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