What can we do about children who can’t read Jamaica?


We have a really big problem with children reading. Last week i observed a few children 6-13 yrs.

  1. We played scrabble
  2. We ask them to choose books that they liked and A-dziko read some with them.

This is what we found.

  • Some children don’t like to sit and read
  • They don’t think reading is important
  • They constantly complain that they can’t say the words
  • Spelling is difficult
  • They don’t read fluently
  • They don’t know many words and have difficulty calling new words
  • The older ones don’t easily recognize the sound letters make. Some don’t know the alphabet
  • In a game of scrabble they made two or three letter words mostly.
  • The ones who couldn’t read wanted to quickly move on to another activity and it seemed they became more disruptive
  • The ones who could read were constantly distracted by the ones who couldn’t.

This is a problem we have written many things about and the Government has gotten lots of money to do studies to understand what the problem is an how to address it. Digicel and USAID has supported Enrichment centres across different schools in the island. The Ministry of Education has made improving literacy a priority. Still we have a growing problem.

In another exercise with the children, we did jigsaw puzzles. i noticed that older children 12+ struggled to fit together a 63 piece jigsaw puzzle meant for 6 yr olds.

We have identified some of the following as pieces of the literacy problem in Jamaican children

  • family support and home context
  • exposure to violence and traumatic experiences
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of mental stimulation at an early age
  • Self-perception
  • Relationship with adults in the community
  • Relationship with primary parent

So where do we start addressing literacy in Jamaica? Or how can we create a programme which we can share to quickly intervene in cases where children need help?



3 thoughts on “What can we do about children who can’t read Jamaica?

  1. We could make reading a fun habit at an early age. Encourage kids to write creatively and freely as well in any form.

    We also have to empower kids to read material that are not just school textbooks. Get them to read about their heroes, role models and community. Without the pressure of a looming exam.

    Local libraries can do more bring people into their premises for non-studying purposes. Such as weekend or evening reading events, reading clubs or summer book shows.

    It also important to analyse what type of literature youngsters are encouraged to read given that we are either visual, audio or kinesthetic in our learning styles.

    i love reading and have given many books as presents both in Jamaica and overseas. But before I do so I observe who they were mentally in order to ensure that the books I gave them would appeal to their mindset. One such recipient started their own Saturday reading school for under 9 years olds which has proved successful in Greater Portmore.

    Maybe when we are considering gifts we can consider the board games you mentioned and books/e-books as useful alternatives.

  2. The last Government supported teachers’ guide for teaching reading was printed in 1983. They are out of print. A few years ago, they began Literacy 1-2-3 which floundered due to a lack of funding to print the books. The typical method of training one teacher for an entire school was also used with that programme with variable effects. I agree with the problems you have identified and would like to contribute a few more:

    1) There is no curriculum for teaching reading. Neither the early childhood nor Primary 1 – 3 curricula systematically address the teaching of reading.
    2) A minority of teachers are trained to teach reading. A fraction of a fraction, and it is elective.
    3) Drills are not a complete teaching methodology. This is what is commonly done whether orally or from a text book. Drills are most helpful when the concept is understood prior. Hence, children already fluent in English will do much better in a class that is based on practicing English.
    4) Several children are (not really) ‘taught’ to read a language which most of them do not speak.
    5) Several children are silenced in school. Their language is not a language and thus they have been robbed of their voice or must live with the idea that they talk bad.
    6) Several children are not taught in their first language.
    7) Several children are not taught English as a second language.

    These issues are interrelated.
    Continued strength in your works.

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