In parts of the developing world, many school children experience failure in school because all school instruction occurs in English, their second, third or fourth language. Unlike children who are native English speakers, non-native speakers’ competency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English are often underdeveloped when entering school. In particular, underprivileged children struggle to learn and apply English skills. This occurs frequently in Papua New Guinea, a country of more than 700 languages where most children acquire a native language and Pidgin English first, but only English is used in school. Such issues can be addressed through both formal education and informal community service-oriented outreach.
The end of 2016 marked six years of a pilot Community Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) project funded by Pacific Adventist University through which we established an integrated school-community English-learning-through-reading program at Ediwa Adventist Primary School in Tasitel Village, and Saio Adventist Primary and Tavol Community Primary on Mussau Island, a predominantly rural SDA island community.
The initial steps of the CBPAR used reflection and discussion with parents and other interested parties to analyze the schools’ student drop-out issue, a major issue for parents and students alike. The analysis found that the primary problem was lack of adequate reading and understanding of English. Poor English skills have been reflected in high rates of primary school dropouts, with few students progressing on to high schools outside of the island. The discussions also identified community assets including a school library, literate individuals and the power of family assistance with children’s reading.
Our meetings with interested parties contributed to developing intervention strategies. Each school established a weekly library reading hour and a community librarian and extensive hours for the school library. Students were encouraged to borrow books to read at home, where literate family members or community members would read and discuss the books with them. Parents of school children were also permitted to borrow books from the school libraries, an unusual but necessary bridge between school and home for developing a culture of reading and learning.
This project has helped to develop a culture of English learning through reading in these respective schools and communities. Teachers, parents, and children have come to value reading as way to learn and understand English an succeed in school and their futures. Some migrant parents seeking good education in urban centres have returned to educate their children in these village schools. At the end of the first year, Tavol Community School Grade 8 ranked first in the provincial Grade 8 examination because one of its students who had read 200 books in that year excelled in the English exams. Ediwa had success stories in every grade from students who read many books, and the serious readers have continued to improve. Where both parents and children have maintained a regular school-home reading program, the positive impact on academic learning and assessments have become consolidated and sustained. An evaluation in 2016 showed more than one child in each of the lower grades of Ediwa school sharing first, second and third year-end academic ranking. Improvements in reading have helped student learn English skills and succeed academically. The ongoing success of this project has depended very much on the motivation, encouragement and continuing involvement of school administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders.
Our worldwide Adventist network has the potential to help communities integrate reading into their student’s lives and have a positive impact for regions with low English literacy. Adventist Colleges, educators, and students alike can be the catalyst for creating innovative methods of English language learning in regions of high illiteracy, which can promote human rights and well-prepared employees for the Church.