Do our children read in school?
“How do parents feel now knowing that their children never have to read a complete chapter book in their entire primary school career? Does it make us feel confident that our children can proceed to secondary school and be ready to take on the reading tasks there?” Dr Cheah shares her thoughts…
I had lunch with an expatriate friend yesterday and as usual we talked about education matters since she is also an educator. She then told me about her friend (another expatriate) who recently decided to pull her son out of a well known local mission school for boys. Her reason? She said that her son did not read a single chapter book in his whole time there. I think Singaporeans will be shocked to hear this especially since getting a place in this school is like winning the lottery. Most people will think that this is a trivial reason for such a drastic decision. After lunch, I thought about this on the drive home and I had to admit that her reason was not all that frivolous.
Think about it. How can a school curriculum offer nothing solid for students to read apart from excerpts of texts which are usually not more than several hundred words long? That has been the situation with the basal texts that we have used, for example, the Primary English Thematic Series (PETS) or even the current supplementary series that I am working on, MC English. To be fair, these basal readers have been commissioned by the Ministry; the guidelines for developing the texts were given to publishers and writers. True, there is a place for basal readers in the curriculum and the latest series is filled with adaptations and excerpts from children’s literature. But they are still short texts and cannot qualify as real books.
The importance of reading in Singapore: How do our children learn to read and write effectively without reading any chapter books of quality?
Some of you may say, “But there are the STELLAR books!" Right, but honestly, how long are they? Should our eleven and twelve year olds be reading more? How do our children learn to read and write effectively without reading any chapter books of quality?
Well, many of you will say that this kind of reading is probably done at home. But most of you will also agree that this kind of reading is crucial to any child's language development. Don’t schools and MOE emphasise the importance of extensive reading all the time? Yet isn't it strange that we don't make our students read and we don't give them grades for reading extensively to motivate them to read?
I have on many occasions urged schools to give out lists of award winning books or create any list of recommended books for their students and make it compulsory for them to read at least ten books from the list every term. But I have yet to hear from any school which has done this. I know of schools which have introduced literature into the curriculum. Their students read a book a term or a book a year. And this book is always the predictable Charlotte's Web or some Roald Dahl title. Some schools even read a rather badly written series of moral stories as literature. The students who really read will finish their book in a day or a week. Those who don't care to read will have their interest killed, either by the long drawn affair with one book or by the boring moralistic tales which are badly written. What then is achieved by introducing literature?
The truth is, we all know that our students don’t do enough reading....
It’s time to seriously consider introducing students to good literature and to make reading a significant component of language learning, instead of confining reading to just comprehension periods. The truth is, we all know that our students don’t do enough reading. It’s time to do something. Let’s stop paying lip service to its value. Nobody would deny that reading is a valuable aid to language learning, to writing and lifelong learning. But why are we not doing anything to make our students read?
After listening to my friend and thinking things over, I realised too that what she has described is true but it’s a truth that we conveniently ignore. I know I often do not mince my words when I speak about what’s wrong with our education system. But I must confess that when an outsider criticises the system, and points out the lapses, I do get quite defensive. This time though, I was truly left with nothing to say but to admit to our failing.
Whether our youth turn out to be avid readers or not depends on us, teachers and parents. How do parents feel now knowing that their children never have to read a complete chapter book in their entire primary school career? Does it make us feel confident that our children can proceed to secondary school and be ready to take on the reading tasks there? Or do we think that reading chapter books is something children should do at home and that school should just concentrate on teaching academic subjects? What do you think?
Taken from Dr Cheah Yin Mee’s blog
This blog is mostly about teaching and learning English. I am a teacher educator in Singapore and I write for teachers, parents and anyone else interested in English education particularly at the primary school level.
Sometimes I have the urge to write about stuff from my everyday life and tell stories from my childhood. I often give in to these urges. Nobody has to read everything here. But as Lionel Shriver once wrote,
" Untold stories didn't seem quite to have happened."
Life does happen, so let the stories unfold...
Dr Cheah Yin Mee was a teacher educator at the National Institute of Education (NIE), where she trained and supervised pre-service and in-service English language teachers. She has provided her expert services to the Ministry of Education (MOE), to schools and to book publishers as an English consultant. She understands the common struggles and difficulties that students face in learning English. Dr Cheah also published academic books and a series of English assessment books for Oxford University Press/Marshall Cavendish. She also served as the President of the Society for Reading and Literacy (SRL).
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