As a community, we see the impact of illiteracy every day affecting children in our school system, or with adults seeking employment. Illiteracy is a hidden shame that many children and adults carry privately, unable to develop the skills to properly decode the world around them. The theme for International Literacy Day 2018 is ‘Literacy and skills development’. Being literate allows children and adults to develop the skills needed to become successful and contributing members of society.
The first step, as with everything else in a person’s development, begins in the home. There is a common myth that every child in the Cayman Islands has access to books in their home. Despite our economic status as a country, this is simply not true. Many families live on the fringes of our economy and are part of a rapidly developing new social norm of need. Some families are able to buy used books at one of the many wonderful thrift shops on island but many more rely on the school system to provide books for their children.
Our government schools share the responsibility for literacy and skills development with parents every day from September to June. In the past two years, LIFE has donated over 15,000 books to our public schools with the aim of ensuring that every child has access to leveled, high-interest books when they come to school. We work in close partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Department of Education Services, the schools, and the teachers to support and supplement their literacy instruction.
We also work with parents through parent partnership programs such as ‘Partners in Print’ where parents are taught the skills needed to help their children learn to read. Importantly, each child is given a free book to take home so that parents and children can practice the skills learned at these series of workshops. Some parents do not know how to read, or have low literacy skills themselves so their involvement in their child’s education is even more important. In our work with parents, we regularly see committed men and women who want to help their children succeed and we encourage parents to continue to work with schools.
“Literacy for skills development” can include words and books that connect students to what is being studied in science, mathematics, and history, or other tools such as computers to develop skills that are needed in virtually every job in modern society. Along with a focus on literacy for technology skills, let us also remember the foundational levels of literacy.
Literacy begins with teaching children to develop an awareness of sounds and print but it also includes skills that adults can improve such as reading comprehension (can you re-tell the story/article in your own words?), a strong vocabulary (what is another word for “good”?) and the ability to spell (without spell-check). LIFE encourages the Cayman community to focus on the foundations of literacy for skills development today so that all our citizens can share in a successful tomorrow.
Executive Director, LIFE (Literacy Is For Everyone)