|A wearying selection of moral tales|
and not much else
And then I started to notice other things. There’s no bookshop or newsagent at Kuching airport. There’s no fiction section in the state library. ‘Bedtime’ and ‘story’ do not collocate here, and school storytelling exists only to communicate moral values. In short, nobody reads for the love of reading. People read to pass a test, or follow a recipe, or find out whether the copper wire thief in the next town has been arrested yet.
Given that the main purpose of my job here in
Borneo is to improve primary teaching and learning, and
that there is a proven link between reading for pleasure and overall academic achievement, what to do? Of course I think kids should read. Books were one of
the greatest pleasures of my childhood, and they remain so in adulthood. But is
it (a) possible and (b) ethical to attempt to impose the culture of recreational
reading so prevalent in
on pupils here? Or, conversely, is it (a) patronising and (b) irresponsible not
Although it’s a bit of a minefield, I’ve decided next month to launch a pilot project in one of my schools to encourage family reading. As a starting point, I’m using a LearnEnglishFamily (LEF) tool designed by the British Council which, whilst appearing clear and comprehensive on the whole, leaves me with a number of reservations.
First, there just aren’t enough affordable, engaging books for children here. Libraries in the five schools I work with are chronically understocked and range from averagely uninspiring to hideously dull. What are we going to use the get the kids’ interest? Imported books are available in the city, but at prices beyond the reach of most families; the annual second-hand book fair is not until August; and making our own books, in any significant quantities anyway, could turn out to be just as costly and time-consuming as ordering a stack from Amazon.
|Little wonder the kids don't bother with the 'library'|
Second, I have no idea how we’re going to get the parents into the school, except perhaps with the promise of curry puffs, whose efficacy as bait has been proven time and again. Optional briefings on other academic matters are poorly attended and a lot of parents, I suspect, might be intimidated because of their own (real or perceived) lack of skills. What I really need is to find a passionate teacher-advocate from the same kampung (see footnote) to act as project co-ordinator, but this is likely to be tricky since a lot of the teachers don’t seem to read for pleasure either.
Thirdly it seems, though I may be wrong, that the only real success story with this tool to date has been in a Tamil school in Kuala Lumpur, a very different kettle of fish to Borneo, and it’s not exactly clear why it worked so well there but not at the other nine schools in peninsular Malaysia where it was trialled. I’d guess that parental literacy levels in both English and L1, as well as other social and political factors, had a lot to do with it, but without any serious inquiry into why just this one school ran with it so enthusiastically I don’t know how to replicate their success.
Anyway. I just posted this by way of introduction as I’ll no doubt come back and blog about the project later, when it has either become the second LEF success story or failed so spectacularly that I am deported. Whether you have any experience of this sort of thing or not (family reading projects, not being deported from
I’d love, as always, to hear your thoughts and advice. Malaysia
Note: Kampung roughly translates as village, but not quite. A kampung is a place, but also an extended kinship network with a clearly defined hierarchy.