Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

OMG - wotz de story wit de riten word?

Children must be given chance to explore through reading books

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Regardless of one's occupation, it has always been important to be able to read and write competently. This is especially so if you are seeking a job.

Unfortunately, many Irish people appear to have slept their way through their school years and are now at a huge disadvantage when searching for employment.

Basic mental arithmetic seems to be beyond many of our school leavers and one must question why so many youngsters fail to achieve even simple literacy skills.

Maybe our young teachers are not as well schooled as their predecessors.

They certainly don't work the same hours; but then, they probably don't get a lot of assistance from parents, some of whom seem to think that education is solely the job of the schools and who refuse to control hours spent watching TV at home.

In a perfect world all parents would help their children to make a decent effort to learn the essential life skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. In a recent OECD survey of literacy levels among 39 countries, Ireland had slipped in the rankings from fifth place to 17th.

Now while this is just above half way and might seem acceptable to some, the survey disguises the fact that up to a quarter of Irish male school leavers were functionally illiterate.

I saw the proof of this recently while browsing through advertisements on the internet and several times saw the word boat spelt as 'bote'.

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It is useful also to know that a wild hare is not the same as the hair on your head and that a yew is not a female sheep.

A century ago literacy skills were extremely poor among the less well off in Ireland and this compounded their difficulties when seeking employment abroad.

Subsequently there was then a great drive, initiated by the founders of our state, to if necessary beat or rather "bate" some education in to the masses. The Christian Brothers, despite their many failings, did a fine job in literally hammering learning in to a wild and unruly school-going population.

There was a sense of zeal among the educators of those days and a pride in achieving high standards among their pupils.

As the decades passed something was lost and the teaching profession became highly unionised, while working shorter and shorter hours.

Why do schools have to close for teacher meetings? Surely they can take place outside class times.

Only a few years ago Ruari Quinn TD, when sitting in the opposition benches, said that what had "shattered and angered" him most was that, with the increasing resources put into education, reading skills had deteriorated.

I doubt they have improved since, apart from the newfound ability to decipher text messages. It was said recently that a child that is not read a story at bedtime is an abused child.

Now that is perhaps a bit strong but none the less is a powerful way of conveying the message that if you read bedtime stories to young children you instill in them a love of literature and a desire to read more which lasts throughout their lifetimes.

Not only is reading a good book hugely enjoyable but while doing so we are increasing our word power and generally educating ourselves with every page we turn.

The pictures we see in our mind's eye, along with the imagined scenery and background to a story, are far superior to anything shown on a TV, computer monitor or cinema.

A good imagination can be an amazingly powerful tool and when we are allowed the freedom to dream up our own mind pictures we challenge the mind to think and thereby bring a story alive.

Surely that is better than sitting in front of a screen playing computer games for hours on end.

Letter writing used to be a highly valued skill and among the illiterate, a local scribe would, for a small fee, write a letter home or deal with official business that required a written response. In ancient Egypt, scribes were part of the royal court and did not have to pay tax or join the military.

In Ireland every adult and child now appears to own a mobile phone and they communicate with each other by using text messages, most of which are written in a sort of garbled short-hand version of English.

Imagine if Shakespeare had written 2B or not 2B.

Enough, it is time to sign off.

Bi 4 now, C U n 2 wks.

Irish Independent