[ Submitted, but not published. ]
Letters to the Editor
November 30, 2015
Re: Refugee students will have a steep learning curve, 27 November 2015
Obviously, as part of their induction into Canadian society, Syrian refugees will be offered English classes. As well as writing, speaking and listening in English, they will be learning to decode the alphabetic English language in order to read fluently. This is where we should pause to look at the methods of teaching reading in this province.
From what I can gather there is really a mixed bag of approaches. The long Reading Wars issue still continues, though not in the high profile way when “Why Johnny Can’t Read” was published in 1955 and again in the 80s with “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read”.
In my brief survey of methods and professional development programs for teachers I see that there is still a wide range of styles, even with empirical research demonstrating superior results from a phonics approach compared to the sight-word or whole-language methods.
My concern is that new refugees should not be subjected to even more confusion in adapting by having language courses that are not the most effective.
Though seemingly unrelated (I would say it’s not) I bring forward the recent findings of the Auditor General who characterizes the education of BC Aboriginal children as “racism of low expectations”. Her report shows that in 10 years the government’s promise to bring parity of educational outcomes did not happen for our Aboriginal students. I believe that if strong programs to systematically teach reading were in place for all children this would not be happening. Experts tell us that Aboriginals are overrepresented in prison populations and that over half are considered functionally illiterate.
Given this glaring fact about BC’s failure to address the educational needs of First Nations students I’m concerned. I hope the teachers in the schools and adult classes helping Syrian refugees are well equipped to teach the alphabetic principles of the English language.
Sincerely, Tunya Audain