By Bethel Udeh

05 September 2022 - 11:33

International Literacy Day poster

This year’s International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide on 8 September under the theme Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces and is an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all. As an active ELT professional deriving from her recent classroom action research project, Bethel Udeh has shared her views on the matter as a way of raising awareness about the million young people and adults lacking basic literacy skills. 


What role can language play in the development of children’s learning?

Language plays a vital role in the development of children right from birth. Research shows that children whose parents speak, read, listen and respond to have higher IQs and more vocabularies than others who did not experience such from their parents or caregivers when they get older. The exposure children receive in terms of language serves as a foundation for them in their learning process. For children still in their early years, activities such as storytelling, and show-and-tell, when carried out as a routine expands their vocabulary and conceptual knowledge. Language in the form of retelling stories builds their phonemic awareness and love for literacy. Besides simply building vocabulary, the quality of interaction children are exposed to affects their comprehension skills. These sets of comprehension skills that the children develop help them in every aspect of their lives- performance at school and social life. A child who comprehends what he is taught in school will perform excellently in tests, exams and other activities. Their social life is not lagging because they are able to communicate and relate well with people they are not familiar with. The family/home is responsible for the child's early language growth and learning. So parents/caregivers who lack resources to assist their children in this area raise children who tend to struggle with comprehension. Children raised in multilingual homes can understand the languages and communicate effectively with them as long as they are properly exposed to them. The importance of language development in children's school readiness and learning cannot be overemphasized.

What obstacles to teaching reading, writing, speaking and listening in your subject, do students face?

Of the skills in English language, reading stands out because a person who is able to read well is able to develop good writing skills, and build his vocabulary and spelling skills. But there are factors that hinder teaching this skill as well as speaking, writing and listening skill. The lack of enabling environment is one obstacle to teaching these skills. More often than not, children start speaking their mother tongue before any other language. So learning to read in a language they are unfamiliar with or yet to get a mastery of won't be easy. The ambiguity of English words is another obstacle. Most English words are ambiguous and this presents a challenge to them especially if there are not so many people they can practice speaking with. More so, there are words in the English language that are not pronounced the way they are written. This is an obstacle for learners of the English language whose mother tongue has words that are pronounced the way they are written. For some children, the environment they find themselves in may make them believe that it doesn't matter if they speak English well or not. Some others simply lack confidence in themselves.

One obstacle in teaching writing is a lack of interest on the part of the learners. If they lack interest, they will have limited ideas of what to write about. If they have difficulty in speaking, it means they do not have much vocabulary and this will hinder their writing. 

External and internal factors can affect listening. External factors could be a noisy or dirty environment or distraction from peers. Internal factors could be the child's emotional state at any given point in time or the attention span. A conducive environment aids listening but some schools especially those in underdeveloped or rural areas lack such conducive atmospheres. Children who sit on floors and perhaps under leaky roofs will find it difficult to listen in class. A child from an abusive home will also have such a problem.

Another obstacle is a lack of willingness or reading to do any of the aforementioned skills.

What resources do you use or would recommend for struggling readers?

Resources for struggling readers depend on the age of the readers. Age-appropriate resources are essential for perfect results. However, EdTech has made it possible to have these materials without stress. Examples of such resources are Schoolio platform, Character magnet, Word Apps which allows children to build and sound out words independently, Board Games which aids them in building their vocabulary, and Writing letters to their favourite characters. 

As a teacher or teacher educator, what are your own literacy areas for development?

Teaching reading and writing skills. These two are very important to me. 

What are you currently doing to raise awareness or tackle the lack of basic literacy skills in your community?

I'm taking as many courses and training as much as I can get. Seeking funding as well.


About the author

Photograph of Bethel Udeh

Bethel Udeh

Bethel Udeh is an ELT professional based in Nigeria. She contributed to the SSA's English Connects regional classroom action research project. The focus of her research project was 'Students' poor performance in Speaking English'.