The Rock of Ages Cracked for Me – The State of Advanced Literacy in Belize



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Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2022. 3:59 p.m. CST.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News:

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: My mother, Mavis Leola Fisher, turned 99 last month, and as I was reflecting on her memorial, the anthem “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” came to mind, as it was one of the anthems , we sang in church the day of our funeral. her, seven years ago! As an Anglican from St. John’s Cathedral, I have sung Rock of Ages many times. This time, however, the word ‘CLEFT’ came easily to me. This made me question my own standard English literacy. I had chanted the word ‘lunge’ hundreds of times before, but never realized I didn’t know what that word meant! For years all I did was decode the word slit and sing along. This time, however, the word lunge really stuck with me. First of all, it sounds like a nice old school word that no one in 2022 uses in their natural vocabulary. I mean there are a lot of old “hymn” words that I sing in church and I don’t really take the time to think about what I mean when I sing them. Like the hymn line Reverend Goff always calls when I’m at his Albert Street Methodist Church, “Come, Thou Found of Every Blessing” that says “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I mean probably 90% of the Church thinks of A Christmas Carol and Scrooge when they sing that line.

So I was thinking about what the phrase “Cleft for Me” means and wrote it down so I could look it up later. And I did. And I found it so helpful that it not only shook my confidence in my own literacy, but caused me to question the efforts of our schools and our teachers to provide the nation with the type of literacy in standard English that it deserves.

In the line “Rock of Ages Cleft for me, let me hide me in thee”, I discovered that what Charles Wesley meant when he wrote this line was that, figuratively speaking, Christ is a solid rock, still, sturdy and unchanging, and has something to do with being ‘Cleft’ or ‘Claved’ to me – so there’s a crack in the rock I can hide in. This definition of CLEFT was what I had sought all my life since I learned to read, and after 22 years of formal schooling, most of those years in primary, secondary and sixth grade schools and churches in Belize . There is no doubt in my mind that our schools and teachers in Belize are doing a very good job of teaching us the basic skills to read, that is, to decode text and pronounce words, but I think that does a poor job of making us literate, that is, providing us with advanced literacy skills, skills that have become a prerequisite for adult success in the 21st century in Belize and around the world!

By advanced literacy, I don’t just mean the ability to decode words and read text fluently, necessary as those basic skills are. Instead, I mean the ability to use reading to access the world of knowledge, to synthesize information from different sources, to evaluate arguments, and to learn about entirely different topics. These high-level skills are now essential for young Belizeans who wish to explore fields as disparate as law, medicine and engineering; succeed in post-secondary studies, whether professional or university; earn a decent living in the global labor market; and to participate in the democracy of our country which is currently facing complex problems. The purpose of this essay is therefore to reflect on the current literacies of the Belizean people, in particular the current literacies of children and adolescents in Belize, and to move forward to improve it.

The question guiding my thoughts around this issue is: how do we define literacy in Belize, and how does this conception of literacy compel our teachers and schools to provide our citizens of the country with the kind of literacy that has become a prerequisite for adult success in Belize in the 21st century? After reviewing the literature and speaking to local experts, my working thesis is this: given the economic demands, educational challenges, and skills needs of our citizens in the 21st century, policymakers must immediately expand the Belize’s concept of literacy to include a set of skills that go far beyond the ability to recognize words and decode text.

From what I can see, the literacy challenge facing children, their families and schools in Belize appears to be twofold. The first is the universal need to better prepare students for the literacy demands of the 21st century. The second is the specific need to reduce disparities in literacy achievement between children from advantaged backgrounds and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. With respect to the first challenge, teachers and our language arts curriculum spend far too much time on basic word decoding and text reading skills, and far too little time developing advanced language skills. literacy needed to succeed in the 21st century. For example, at primary school level, of the 710 language arts learning outcomes to be covered over the eight years of primary schooling, more than 85% of these learning outcomes relate to the development of basic language skills. decoding text and pronunciation of words, i.e.: 85% of the time is spent on phonetic awareness, phonetics, vocabulary and reading fluency in standard English. Only 15% of language arts learning outcomes relate to the advanced literacy skills of comprehension, synthesis, meaning-making and creativity. Which I find unacceptable!

The second challenge is the specific need to reduce disparities in literacy outcomes between children from advantaged backgrounds and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As former Director of Education Dr Carrol Babb and Dr CC Richards have recently pointed out, children from less privileged homes need far more literacy resources, i.e. quality textbooks and reading tablets like Kindle, than they currently have access to on their own. . The current situation regarding access to literary resources is more “egalitarian” than “equitable”. Dr. Richards further adds that “it is important for us in Belize to distinguish between equal and fair. It’s like when you give pizza to a group of eight people. The same thing to do is to cut the pizza into eight equal slices and give one slice to each person in the group. On the other hand, fairness consists in considering the needs of each member of the group. For example, some may have already eaten slices of pizza today and therefore no longer need them. Others may not have eaten for two days and therefore may need more than one slice. Some members of the group might not like the pizza and therefore not want it, etc. Equity is giving to those who need more, more, and to those who need less, less. Children from less advantaged households need significantly more literacy resources than others.

In short, my view is that given economic demands, educational challenges, and our citizens’ need for advanced literacy skills in the 21st century, our education policy makers must immediately broaden the concept of a literacy program and must begin to place much greater emphasis on a set of new skills that go far beyond phonetic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and fluency and significantly increase the emphasis on ‘comprehension’ when teaching reading in our schools. To do this, the language arts curriculum will need to be overhauled and our teachers will need to be requalified, if our schools are to begin providing citizens with the kind of advanced literacy skills that have become necessary for success in 20 years. years. First century Belize.

Please feel free to use the column below to challenge any or all of the statements above, and let’s get the discussion started on advanced literacy in Belize.

Dr. Dorian Barrow is currently working at Galen University as Dean of the Department of Education. He has a long history of involvement in education in Belize, having served as a lecturer at the University of Belize and as the chief executive of the Ministry of Education. Dr. Barrow is a distinguished professional who is highly respected both locally and internationally. He is a member of the editorial staff and reviewer of several internationally renowned journals and is the author of numerous research articles/books related to education. Apart from education, he is also a sports enthusiast.

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