Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 11th 2013 Contents B12
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, July 11, 2013
Alta CEO & Founder
There are two widely-held myths
The first myth is that reading is easy,
so if you can't read you must be stupid.
Most of us don't remember learning
to read, we just remember reading so
we think it is natural and automatic---
Reading is actually very complex. In
fact, researchers do not know how the
brain actually reads. Moreover, reading
is not a natural skill, not something
that we pick up just by hearing others
read. Learning to read, for example, is
different from learning to talk. The
young child looks and listens to others
talking and begins to talk herself. Not
so with reading. Reading and writing
do not develop naturally---they must
be taught, must be learnt.
Reading is like any skill, some of us
have natural talent, some struggle to
learn and most fall at the various points
between these two poles of ease and
Let's compare learning to read with
learning to play an instrument. Some
can play by ear and make music after
a few lessons, but others need instruc-
tion for years to play the same way. It
is the same with reading and writing.
Some have an aptitude for reading and
pick it up easily. Others don't.
So, mastering reading and writing
depends on the wiring of your brain
and having the opportunity to learn.
Moreover aptitude for literacy does
not determine your ability, especially
your ability to think and to succeed.
Some very successful dyslexics who
struggled with written words are actors
Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg and our
own multi-talented Geoffrey Holder;
creators of business empires Walt Dis-
ney, Charles Schwab and Robert
So, reading is not easy and poor lit-
eracy cannot be equated with poor
thinking skills or potential to succeed.
The second myth is that we are, or
even once were, a literate nation. In
the mid-1990s, there were two national
literacy surveys of those aged 15 and
over---the first by Alta, followed by
UWI. These showed that about one in
four people could not perform everyday
reading and writing tasks like reading
simple signs or filling out basic forms,
and only 45 per cent could read and
understand a simple newspaper article.
For these persons who do not read,
or do not read well, what does it mean?
We live in an age of information and
that information is written. A phone
call has become a text; your social life
is on Facebook; to access almost every-
thing, from jobs to giveaways, you fill
out a form.
How would you feel surrounded by
written words that give others a mes-
sage but not you? Over the years many
students have talked about being on
the outside, feeling excluded. As one
student wrote: "There is no place for
me in the heart of society." Note her
choice of the word heart'---tells you
she feels rejected, unloved by the world
Not only are poor readers left out,
but they feel they have to hide because
those who read think reading is easy.
They live in fear of being found out,
under stress hiding that they can't read.
My student Yvonne speaks of "getting
a braveness" when she came to Alta,
able to be open literacy for the first
time in her 40 years.
Their world is a small one because
they avoid anything they haven't done
before. I remember the student from
Chaguanas who had never come to
Then there is the impact on the chil-
dren, who often struggle at school, just
as their parents did since literacy is a
product of home and school, not just
school. Indeed a strong motivator for
coming to Alta is to ensure that your
children have a better life---as the stu-
dents put it, "I don't want my children
to have to suffer like me."
Something that I have noticed is how
low literacy affects relationships with
those around you. One of my students,
Fitzroy spoke of how coming to Alta
changed his relationship with his young
son. Fitzroy started as a beginner stu-
dent; that is, he did recognise even all
the letters of the alphabet and virtually
no words. He said when his son came
to ask him for help with school work,
because he couldn't help but he didn't
want his son to know this, Fitzroy would
brush him off rudely---"You can't see
I busy. Stop bothering me." From his
first year at Alta, Fitzroy began to share
what he was learning at Alta---the sight
word and phonics cards---and asking
his son to share what he had learned
A factor of increasing importance is
that the non-literate have fewer legit-
imate options to earn a living. Most
jobs require three CXC passes. There
are limited legit options, but apparently
a wide range of fairly well-organised
illegitimate ones often starting quite
innocuously: "drop dis here for mih,"
"look out and see when Babylon
Fr Clyde Harvey wrote in an article
in December 2010, "Those of us who
have worked with youth at risk have
been struck by the high percentage of
them who have very poor reading skills.
Many of our teenage boys are reading
at levels half their age. Many of our
gang leaders have reading disabilities
which were not recognised at school,
left them at the back of the class and
then saw them compensating through
their other natural abilities of leader-
What can we do?
Be alert to the signs of low literacy:
Avoiding print: not reading menu (I
will have what you are having), excus-
es--- forgot glasses', too busy'
Continues on Page B13
Unravelling literacy myths
Links Archive July 10th 2013 July 12th 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page