Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday 18 March 2017

Reading the Literacy Problem in Tasmania

Lyndon Riggall offers a thoughtful and challenging examination of literacy achievement (or the lack thereof) in Tasmania. Heed his call to all those engaged with children to work towards addressing the problems.

This year I am studying a Masters of Teaching at the University of Tasmania. As part of this course, I am engaged in a unit titled Foundations of Literacy: Processes and Practices, co-ordinated by Dr. Belinda Hopwood. Over the last week we have been discussing literacy in a Tasmanian context, and the implications, as always, startle. I’m sure many of you have heard the figure before, but the worst projections remain at 49% for functional illiteracy in Tasmania (that is, literacy at the level deemed necessary to carry out the day-to-day tasks of employment.) The outcome of the lecture and discussion we undertook was as harrowing as it was eye-opening: these issues are systemic, generational, and not going away.

Programs such as Launching Into Learning start children reading before they reach school, recognising that a major hurdle in our literacy landscape is that those who fall behind are easily left behind, and fail to ever catch up. LINC Tasmania offers courses in which adults can get support and learn to read, which lifts adult literacy levels and creates an environment in which adults need not be resistant and defensive about reading and writing, and will be able to share their skills with their own children and grandchildren. There are plenty of people doing remarkable work to help this problem, yet we cannot deny that the scope of it is frightening.

It has always struck me with some degree of horror when I see some of the figures related to literacy. A Roy Morgan poll taken in 2015 identified 60.9% of women as having read a book in the last 3 months, and only 41.3% of men. While I would certainly accept that my own rate of reading has been known to border on the classification of addiction, going twelve weeks without finishing a book of any kind strikes me as a huge blow to an individual’s personal development and understanding of the world. And yet it’s the norm. I know we read so much – in the papers, online, scrolling Facebook… but books are deep, contemplative, thoughtful things that make us better. And we’re just not using them enough.

So what can we do? We can support our libraries and organisations such as the CBCA whenever and however we can. We can remain thoughtfully open and contemplative about the content of books that we and our children read, but try whenever possible not to police as “valid” and “invalid” anyone’s reading choices that might be reduced to personal taste.

We can love books. Love them daily, love them publically, and love them openly. Because the problem of literacy isn’t solved in the classroom of “readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic” alone. It is solved on the library steps, where a young woman reads the new Tim Winton while she waits for the bus. It is solved in a child’s bedroom, where a father reads his son Where is the Green Sheep? before bed. It is solved in a lounge room, where a girl, her X-Box long abandoned, giggles in delight as she reads of a young Andy Griffiths siliconing himself inside a gradually filling shower.

I believe that we become an amalgam of the small group of people we spend the most time around. And if we want to be highly literate, if we want our friends, our children and society to be highly literate, we must model that literacy. It’s easily done, and if it’s done right it’s joyfully done, too. And it starts so simply. With the crinkling of a spine, and the words…

Chapter One. 

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and pre-service teacher in Launceston. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

1 comment:

  1. I heartily endorse the need to support libraries – public and school – where those with expertise in literature and reading (librarians and teacher librarians) are in severe decline.