International Literacy Day

UNESCO International Literacy Day
Image via Wikipedia

I suppose it sounds a bit of a grand and pompous claim, but I think I’m justified in saying I’ve devoted my working life to helping children become literate. After all I am in my thirty third year of being a primary school teacher.  Ten years ago I did a Masters degree in education and my thesis was on the topic of literacy. And for the last few years I’ve been a teacher of children with special needs such as dyslexia. Added to that I’m also a writer – and writers need readers.  So all in all literacy is a bit of an obsession of mine.

Today was International Literacy Day – hence my even higher than normal level of interest. Being literate is something most people take for granted. But across the world there still remain many barriers to people’s acquisition of literacy.

As part of my Masters degree I studied the role of education in sustainable development and through that I got the chance to go and teach in some township schools in Cape Town.

  There were classes of 60 or more children with few, or sometimes, no books. But the children were incredibly eager to learn. When I got home to Scotland I contacted my employer, The City of Edinburgh Council, and they agreed to send out the Edinburgh Literacy programme with all its resources and reading books to the schools I’d worked in. I hope my time there and my employer’s support may have, at least in a small way, improved some lives.

But there’s still so much to be done. ‘Knowledge is power’ according to the saying. And it is literacy that gives access to much of our knowledge. Check out UNESCO UK’s website   There you can read (amongst other things) about projects in the developing world to empower women through literacy. In the words of Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, ‘When a woman is literate she can make choices to dramatically change her life for the better.’ And presumably the lives of her children will be improved too. See also the website of  Room to Read This wonderful organisation does much to create and distribute books to children in the developing world. 

On the same website there is information about the forthcoming Knowledge and Innovations Network for Literacy where literacy researchers and practitioners can share knowledge and debate literacy topics.

Education and communication in our globally networked world depend more than ever on the ability to read and type. But literacy is not yet a universal right. So, even if you just read your kids a bedtime story, do your bit to extend that right.

Berries, Storms and a Happy New Year

Storm clouds over Skye

The season’s changing – the weather is distinctly autumnal. According to the BBC, autumn will be late this year – I beg to differ. This year summer never really got started in Skye  and I think we’ve missed that particular window. The dark is deep enough now for the stars to be visible again and Venus  is shining brightly once more in the eastern night sky – as the planet that’s first up and last to bed, it’s both the evening and morning ‘star’. There have been berries on the rowan trees in the garden for several weeks now – much earlier than normal.

Rowan berries

And of course school’s now back. There’s also a severe weather warning in place for the Hebrides  this evening and overnight. All ferry sailings are cancelled as a force eight blows out in the Minches and gusts of up to 70mph are expected. The wind is roaring down the chimneys and the rain is battering at the windows. The lights are flickering and I hope the power stays on – at least long enough for me to finish this post. We expect this sort of weather in the winter –  but in August??

For me the start of a new school year always emphasises that summer’s over. As a teacher my life is marked out in school terms – so I’m always very aware of the passing of the year and it’s seasons. August is my New Year – more so than January. It’s been a hectic first week back – lots of meetings and planning and preparation. I’ve made my new year resolutions to stay on top of the paper work and not to get stressed – we’ll see.

 It’s been good to catch up with colleagues and exchange holiday stories. It’s also been great to see the children again. They all seem to have grown and are pleased to be on the next rung of the primary school ladder. The children in the Primary One class have settled in already and are so sparky and enthusiastic – real bright wee buttons. At the other end of the school, the new Primary Sevens are very pleased and proud to be the top dogs and they all appear just that bit more mature than they did in June. And it seems strange without our ‘graduated’ – last years Primary Sevens who’re now at high school. There’s a real buzz and energy about the place as my 33rd – OMG! – year in teaching gets underway.

Every class has a new teacher – so there’s a lot of ‘getting to know you’ stuff going on. As a learning support teacher, I work with children from Primary One to Primary Seven in both the English and Gaelic streams of the school – so I have a good overview of the pupils and am called on as the ‘continuity’ person as teachers and new classes get acquainted. we also have a new curriculum to get acquainted with – Scotland now has a ‘Curriculum for Excellence‘ – I don’t know what that means we had before – and it remains to be seen just how excellent this new one is. Our schools are facing a lot of changes so it’s probably fitting that the new year begins with a whirlwind…