Illiteracy threatens to bring the generation of children into a bleak future
American schoolchildren’s reading literacy has declined for decades – and that shortage isn’t just limited to children. Only 48 percent of adults in America are competent readers.
As the devastating effects of COVID subside, this serious educational deficit is likely to worsen. UNESCO recently reported that American schools were partially or fully closed for 56 weeks, compared to 47 weeks in Canada and just 27 weeks in the UK. At the local level, the data are even less encouraging; As of April 30, only 13 percent of California public school students were in the classroom five days a week.
More:Schoolchildren have difficulty reading behind masks and screens during COVID-19, but “expectations are no different”
Students who fail to achieve reading by third grade will see dramatic changes in their educational path. This grade is when the focus changes to reading to learn rather than learning to read. But teens who enter third grade at the age of 8 (or 9) experience one of the most intimidating periods of their lives. These students are dealing with physical / cyberbullying, gender discrimination, reduced physical activity, increasing obesity, low self-esteem, and limited counseling, mentoring, and tutoring.
Students who don’t read well by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school: Another crucial marker – for students and society. 80 percent of the prisoners are early school leavers. Falling high school graduation rates combined with rising school dropout rates offer little hope for America’s future as we grapple with escalating global competition.
Most schools provide computers, laptops, and tablets for students. These high-tech electronic devices are equipped with virtual assistants with artificial intelligence (AI) (Siri, Alexa or Cortana). You vocal answer questions from students in real time. Reading is not required. So far, schools have done poorly when it comes to teaching students to read at or above grade level. Perhaps the more general question is whether administration, teachers, parents, and society still value reading at all?
What we don’t appreciate tends to go away; B. decreasing newspaper circulation, decreasing participation in community and religious organizations, disappearing cinemas, shopping malls, decreasing book sales etc.
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Unfortunately, there is also growing evidence that subjects we once cherished have been removed from our schools. Civic subjects are taught in only 25 percent of American schools. The arts, music and sports classes are declining, and many schools have stopped teaching italics altogether. Shop classes, housekeeping, social studies, and history have ended or in decline.
In fact, schools are also reducing the number of days students spend in class. By May 2019, nearly 560 school districts in 25 states had adopted the four-day week (Israel requires six days a week). Colorado leads the nation with four-day weeks in 60 percent of its districts. Some states only require 160 days, but most require 180 days (Japan requires 220 days).
Daily class time in America can range from 180 minutes per day for kindergarten to 210 minutes for high school students. Given this limited time, schools need to maximize every hour available to teach classes that produce informed, functioning, and productive citizens – especially reading literacy. It should come as no surprise that Gallup reports that only a third of high school graduates feel engaged in their classes.
One argument is to enable personalized learning through the use of customizable AI with just-in-time, just-enough, just-for-me auto-assessment and correction of educational platforms. However, during the recent educational re-engineering effort, the rush for technology has, for the most part, landed somewhere between disappointing and disastrous.
Most schools use the “factory model” in which large, impersonal classes offer uniform teaching that often limits individual growth. A better option is the “medical model”, which assumes from the outset that learners will need support for different periods of time. But the question remains: is our vast education system capable of changing enough to improve reading literacy?
There are many reasons to be pessimistic about the effectiveness of our schools in the months and years to come as we strive to recover from COVID. But every affected citizen has the ability to make a difference, especially parents and grandparents. Books answer questions, but they also create questions – this is the first step in stimulating learning. Every citizen must demand that reading be taught – and valued.
John Britto taught hospitality management and culinary arts at community colleges and private institutions in California for more than 30 years. He lives in Stockton.