Simply allowing children access to a library can make all the difference.
A young adult, a first generation learner in her family, the pride of the family so to speak, found herself in a peculiar position. She found herself tongue tied when asked to speak and write in English although she had studied in English through out her school years. She had studied in an English medium school thanks to her mother's determination to educate her daughter and help her with better prospects that education helps to deliver. She managed to even pass with reasonably good marks but when it came to a real life application of the English language, she stumbled. "How will this girl seek employment without knowing how to speak, read and write simple English? Does it mean that the years of hard work that her affectionate mother put in to as a maid to save money for her education will simply not pay off?" These disturbing thoughts arose in Shahnaz's Sultana's mind after talking to her maid, Shanti's daughter who was studying in a college at the time.
What could have gone wrong?
Shanti's daughter had an amazing ability to memorise anything that she was taught. It is this strength that enabled her to get through years of schooling. How much she understood and used in her daily life is hard to know, but one can have reasonable doubt that it wasn't much. One can only imagine what it must have been like to grow in a family where no one had gone to school before let alone know the English language. The promise that motivated her mother to save money was that education would deliver brighter prospects for her daughter so that she doesn't have to work by cleaning households for a living.
Education is important. Along with it comes critical life skills that are developed over the years gradually. Reading comprehension is one such skill. The English subject in school is a structured curriculum that plays an incredibly important role in helping children appreciate the language to a certain extent. What is inevitable, is the testing process which makes learning the language more for a performance parameter rather than a means to use it as a communication tool.
The English subject in school is a structured curriculum that plays an incredibly important role in helping children appreciate the language to a certain extent. What is inevitable, is the testing process which makes learning the language more for a performance parameter rather than a means to use it as a communication tool.
How can children be enabled to see the English subject as a communication tool rather than simply another subject that needs to be passed in school?
Everyone likes a good story. Language is a means to tell a story, imagine the story and appreciate it. To be able to appreciate it, one needs to understand, which means learning what the words in the given language mean. This is why children's books have bright illustrations which children can observe, deduce and attach meaning to the printed word. Visuals help better association with the meanings of words, makes reading and understanding less daunting and more a way of life, something habitual. There is beauty in the process that is unhindered by the pressure to perform. When given the space and time, reading becomes a source of comfort, something to look forward to, something that promises to be a companion no matter what. (Read about how Shahnaz Sultana established Reading Stars India to help schools build classroom libraries and in the process enable underprivileged children to access books other than their school textbooks.)
Ensuring that books are available to any child at any time of the year will be a good first step in enhancing the reading achievement of low-income students and an absolutely necessary step in closing the reading achievement gap. —Anne McGill Franzen and Richard Allington, 2009
Reading for pleasure, in other words reading books other than school textbooks helps with academics too.
School days come with their share of homework and test prep. You as a parent may worry that a child would get carried away by a book just as they tend to spend time watching TV or playing video games, instead of finishing a school homework. As a result, you may want to discourage them from picking up a book during school days and reserve book reading as an activity to pass time in the summer holidays for instance. The problem with that approach is that once there is a break in reading for pleasure, the benefits thereof also begin to wear off. That's far from ideal. When the holidays come again, the child will have to once again create a habit of reading. Creating habits are difficult and having to do it over and over again is even harder, thus reducing the chances of your child growing up to be an avid reader.
You may want to discourage them from picking up a book during school days and reserve book reading as an activity to pass time in the summer holidays for instance. The problem with that approach is that once there is a break in reading for pleasure, the benefits thereof also begin to wear off. That's far from ideal.
Additional reading goes a long way in making school lessons easier to absorb. It gives the child the much needed language assistance in pressure free context. Reading a delightful story to unwind has positive results.
“We teachers have more than enough anecdotal evidence that the students who read the most are the best spellers, writers, and thinkers. No exercise gives more instructional bang for the buck than reading” (Miller, 2009, p. 55).
If this article convinces you to look for a library, refer our blog Want to Raise A Reader, for library recommendations across India.
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