“Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 – 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.” – National Adult Literacy Survey, (1002) NCES, U.S. Department of Education.
The ability to read is very important for a successful formal education. It is the foundation on which every other form of learning is built. The role of reading in formal education is similar to the role of language in human life. Language, as a medium of communication is the vehicle through which humans exchange information, feelings, and emotions. Without language, life would be impossible to live. This fact is aptly illustrated in the familiar story of the Tower of Babel.
In formal education, reading is the language. It is the medium of communication without which learning would be difficult. Reading is the skill needed to understand the instructions of every subject including Mathematics.
Without the ability to read, the student is unable to learn properly. Some would argue that it is the job of the teacher to explain the instructions of the subject to students who cannot read.
Granted that the teacher is always available to explain things in a language the child understands, what happens in examinations? Will the teacher be available to read and explain the questions in the BECE examinations hall?
Besides making it easier for students to understand the various subjects, reading ability also offers the opportunity for continuous learning outside the classroom. Not all knowledge is taught, some of it must be acquired by the learners themselves. Inability to read means that one is restricted to what the teacher knows. Once the teacher exhausts his knowledge, learning is over. But this should not be the case.
Learning must continue beyond what the teacher knows. In order to deepen their understanding, students must be able to explore other perspectives beyond what their teachers teach them. That is how students learn to think critically. This cannot happen without the ability to read.
Reading and arithmetic are arguably the two most vital skills acquired through education. Indeed, they are the foundations on which any other knowledge or skill is developed. They are the two skills people need to function properly in society, especially in a modern society like ours.
It is what helps you to find directions to a place without having to ask around. It is what helps you to know how to operate a new television you just bought. And it is what helps you to know where the emergency exit is when there is a fire in a public place. Reading can literally save your life.
The central point in all this talk about reading is that intervention in the education sector must start with improvement in the reading ability of children. Every year, government spends about 30% of its revenue on education and yet the quality of education is still low.
If a significant chunk of this money was spent on helping school children learn how to read, there would be a good chance of achieving better educational outcomes.The benefits of this would even spill over into other sectors. For instance if everybody in Ghana could read, it would be a lot easier to explain government policies and galvanise the people’s support for national development.
Thankfully, there are effective modern ways of achieving universal literacy in Ghana. One of these is the innovative use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Savana Signatures has already carved a path in this direction. With the right support, electronic readers can be deployed in basic schools to assist children develop their reading skills. Our survival as a nation depends on the quality of the people that leave our schools. A literate people is the real engine of growth.