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JIS News

To improve the literacy level among primary school students, the Education Transformation Team at the Ministry of Education and Youth will be launching an activity dubbed, Reading Pals, in January 2007.
Elaine Cunningham, Curriculum Teaching and Workstream Lead of the Education Transformation Team, tells JIS News that the overall mandate of the programme is to improve the reading levels of students, by inviting parents to become Reading Pals in their child’s school.
“The Reading Pals programme is an activity that invites parents, guardians, and public and private sector volunteers to engage in reading, in a selected school one day a week, or one hour per week,” she explains.
“This person must be literate, or even if this person is not literate, once he or she has the time to listen to a student read, that is fine. A part of reading development is pronunciation, and so the person might not be articulate in reading but just by listening to the student read, this in itself will be helpful in developing that student’s literacy skills,” she says. The programme is an activity created to support and develop reading on the recommendation from the National Task Force Report on Education which conducted a thorough analysis of the education system. From this analysis, it was clear that literacy levels among primary school students should improve.
“We really need to get our literacy right at the very early stages or we are in trouble. The grade four students, who are sitting the Grade Four Literacy Test, which is the standard benchmark, are coming out at 65 per cent. We need to step out in the 70 and over but what we really want to reach is 85 per cent mastery,” she informs.
“The Task Force recommendation suggests that we should reach an 85 per cent mastery in another 10 years. While we know that we cannot reach it in two years, maybe not even in 10 years, we really want to start the process, and this programme intends to support the attainment of this goal,” Mrs. Cunningham adds.
The Reading Pals programme is expected to target a total of 10 primary schools in Regions two, three and six. These include the parishes of St. Thomas, Portland, St. Mary, Trelawny, St. Ann, Clarendon and St. Catherine. “We will be targeting parents in those regions, we will be starting with 10 schools. Twenty-five parents from each of the selected schools will be trained to be reading pals,” she says.
Mrs. Cunningham tells JIS News that the Education Transformation Team has already developed an instrument to find out if parents will be interested in becoming a part of the activity.
“The instrument for parents, which takes the form of a questionnaire, was developed to sensitise parents about their role in their child’s literacy development and achievement. Additionally, we wanted to know if they would volunteer for this process, and then from the responses we could determine the type of training that is needed to better equip parents to assist their children, not only in the schools but also in the home,” she informs.
A total of 150 questionnaires were distributed to 20 schools that are on the Inner City Schools programme in regions one and six. Five parents were selected from each school. After the questionnaires are tabulated, the trends will become evident and inform the training package. The Transformation Team will then provide the necessary training for parents and other persons who want to a part of the activity. Mrs. Cunningham tells JIS News that the programme is expected to be of great benefit to parents, students and the community. “This activity is a way of engaging the community in the development of the school and in a sense, it fits in the Ministry’s modernization plan to delegate responsibility to schools and regions.
This is a way of ownership and involvement. We also feel that they are social benefits to be derived from this; you develop relationships, and we are crossing cultures and timelines,” she notes.
She adds that this activity is also expected to improve the students’ cognitive skills. “If we are able to improve the students’ literacy skills, then we are able to improve their general performance at school, because if you are a good reader, not just a caller of words, you are able to develop your thinking processes,” Mrs. Cunningham says.
“In addition, younger parents who are interested in entering the teaching profession can benefit tremendously. The programme will expose them to the teaching profession, it will expose them to the satisfaction and some joy that they feel in journeying with their child. We are looking at the possibility of finding some accreditation for them, for prior knowledge to enter a teacher’s college,” she informs.
Mrs. Cunningham points out that parents and other persons who are interested in becoming a part of the programme can do so by signing a registry, which will be open this month (November) in the selected regions.
“November is Parents’ Month and we thought that we could collaborate with the Ministry’s programme in engaging parents and highlighting parents in this month by getting into selected schools in selected regions to target some parents. The registers will be opening in the different regions in November, as we go to the various parenting activities,” she informs. ‘Reading is a family affair’ is the theme for the Reading Pals programme.