In parts of the developing world, many school children experience failure in and expulsion from school leading to the loss of a future career and contribution to society 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 upon their entrance into formal schooling. In particular, underprivileged children struggle to learn and apply English skills in communication, knowledge acquisition, and classroom learning and assessments. This occurs frequently in Papua New Guinea, a country of more than 700 languages where the majority of children acquire a native language and Pidgin English first, but only English is taught and learnt 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 analyses of the school students’ drop-out issue that has been a major issue for parents and students alike in the community. Through this process identification was made of the lack of adequate reading and understanding of English as a major issue. 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, and parents have expressed high levels of frustration with this output. This discussion simultaneously addressed potential solutions to the issue and identification of community assets including school library, literate individuals and the power of family assistance with children’s reading.
Our CBPAR conversations and meetings with school administrators, school children, parents and guardians, and church and community contributed to developing intervention strategies. Each of the three schools 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 school libraries in all three schools something unusual but necessary bridge between school and home atmosphere of 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 an avenue through which English is learnt and understood for practical application in school and for the future. 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 shared the same success stories in every grade from students who read many books and has since continued to do so for serious readers. 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. A brief evaluation at the end of 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 simultaneously contributed to improved learning and competencies in English skills usually problematic in rural parts of the less developing regions of the world. The ongoing success of this project has depended very much on the motivation, encouragement and involvement of school administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders, and their ongoing involvement can help sustain the benefits.
Our worldwide Adventist network is extensive and has the potential to make such a positive integration embracing both formal and informal educational strategies for positive impact for high illiteracy regions and peoples. Adventist Colleges, educators and students alike can be the catalyst for creating innovative methods of English language learning in regions of high illiteracy, promoting equal human rights and human resource development for the Church.