Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, is encouraging more parents, particularly fathers, to develop the habit of reading aloud with their children.
He said that this simple practice will not only help to solidify the “bond of love” between child and parent, but will also prepare the child’s mind for the school system.
“It prepares the mind of the child to be taught, so when your child goes to school, your child has an advantage,” the Education Minister told parents during a handing over ceremony of Bookstart Jamaica ‘book packs’, at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) Paediatric Clinic, on Monday, December 19.
Bookstart Jamaica is part of the Ministry of Education’s new family literacy initiative, which aims to create a nation of readers and encourage an early start to family literacy activities. Each Bookstart Jamaica ‘book pack’ has a locally developed board book suitable for infants, and information about the Jamaica Library Service, its locations and family programmes, including ‘We Likkle but We Tallawah’ – parents reading with infants and toddlers Bookstart Jamaica companion programme.
Mr. Holness noted that the programme was established as part of the Ministry’s National Literacy Strategy, as it was found that many Jamaican children were entering the school system unprepared.
“This places us at a disadvantage, because teachers now have to do the work that parents should have done as a natural part of their parenting responsibility. When we examined what was happening in the households, we realised that many parents did not understand the importance of early reading with their children,” the Prime Minister said.
He informed that the objective of Bookstart is to provide parents with books at the earliest stage, “so that when the programme is fully implemented, every Jamaican child born in a hospital in Jamaica will be presented with a package.”
“We don’t only want you to read (to) your children, we want you to read aloud and we want you to have your children read aloud as well,” Mr. Holness urged. “If we can get all our parents, especially fathers, reading with their children, it will start the receptivity to education,” he added.
Senior Adviser to the Minister of Education, Dr. Rebecca Tortello, said some 14,000 book packages will be distributed to parents islandwide as part of a pilot project, before the programme is rolled out in full force. This, she said, will be done in partnership with the Ministry of Health.
“We will be conducting a cohort study, which will be conducted with parents around the island and we will gather data from that study, which will tell us about parents’ reading habits, how they read with their children, how they read before they had children, and what difference it made when they received the pack. The remainder of the packs will go out through the Ministry of Health into clinics and birthing hospitals in the South-east region, to see how it works before we roll this programme out nationally next year,” Mrs. Tortello said.
Director of Family Health Services, Ministry of Health, Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, pointed out that the Bookstart programme is a continuation of a long and fruitful collaboration between the Ministries of Health and Education.
She informed that the Health Ministry first facilitated the pilot of the project in two health centres across the island, namely the Morant Bay and Maxfield Park Health centres, where it was recognised that parents were excited about receiving the books and encouraged to read more to their children.
“Our health care workers also liked the idea, because it gave them another tool to discuss with parents the importance of their child’s growth and development. We are therefore very pleased that this Bookstart programme will continue in 2012 through our health facilities,” Dr. Lewis-Bell said.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter