The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
View E-Paper

‘All children and adults should have access to literacy’ – National Literacy Agency CEO

Luke Fenech Monday, 23 January 2023, 10:00 Last update: about 10 days ago

Serving as a beacon for the Ministry for Education, the National Literacy Agency is responsible for several roles which aim to keep the literacy rate high in our communities. The agency seeks to promote and sustain lifelong and life-wide, high-quality, literacy practices. It strives also to improve literacy outcomes, resulting in inclusive practices, higher educational qualifications, and better job prospects.

ADVERTISEMENT

To maintain this role, CEO David Muscat said in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, the agency “designs and delivers programmes that promote literacy skills and practices.” Examples of these programmes and initiatives are Read with Me, Seħer l-Istejjer and Reading Ambassadors. 

In Read with Me and Seħer l-Istejjer, stories are read aloud in Maltese or English to children, accompanied by their parents. “These sessions are free of charge and the main aim is to expose children to the beauty of reading and to serve as models for adults on how to read to children.” Other roles of the Agency include:

·        Supporting children with literacy difficulties (including literacy intervention sessions);

·        Supporting the production and publication of literacy resources (such as applications);

·        Providing access to and distributing literacy resources (such as books);

·        Having specialised units to support school libraries;

·        Promoting the professional development of school staff and educators.

The Agency CEO was asked to comment on Malta’s literacy status, and what ages are more prone to literacy issues: “our international literacy scores like those from PISA and PIRLS indicate that our students perform below the international reading average.  The National Literacy Agency has decided to focus on early literacy intervention, as we feel that this is where we can be most effective with more long-lasting effects.  One such literacy intervention programme is Reading Recovery, which is a high-quality and intensive programme.  It intervenes with six-year-olds, who may be underperforming in literacy.  So far the programme has registered considerable success, in that most of the children who have participated in it have been able to continue the regular classroom literacy programme with their peers.  Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the progress on such a programme, however, we are now working hard to bring things back on track.”

The Malta Independent on Sunday also inquired about the newly launched Bilingualism Policy in primary schools: “The Language Policy for Junior Years in Malta and Gozo promotes and supports bilingualism among all children in the Junior Years (ages 7-11). Malta is becoming more and more multicultural and multilingual. However, it remains first and foremost a bilingual nation with Maltese and English as its official languages,” stated Muscat.

The policy follows the publication of the Language Policy for the Early Years in 2016. The document seeks to present the notion of agency where children, parents and educators are to be empowered to make informed decisions about the promotion of bilingualism at home and within educational settings. All stakeholders are to foster positive attitudes towards Maltese, English and other languages and support school language education policies and practices. Children are to be supported so that they can engage in activities that promote their development in Maltese and English. As Muscat continued: “it also emphasises the pivotal role of appropriate language use from the Primary years for effective, intercultural and international communication.  We should not forget that language is our most powerful tool for peace and global understanding in our increasingly multilingual society.”

The Agency CEO was also questioned on the National Literacy Strategy for All 2021-2030. “The NLS (2021-2030) aims to ensure that all children and adults have access to literacy to enable them to be productive and successful members of society. It is built on four pillars which are: Literacy in the community, literacy in education, literacy resources and professional development and research. Literacy development does not only take place in the classroom, but it is a lifelong learning process that takes place from birth. This is the main guiding tenet of this Strategy, and it is the driving force behind the initiatives of the National Literacy Agency.”

With regard to what schools can do, Muscat said that “children should be exposed to meaningful literacy experiences through reading and writing to be able to lead productive and effective lives in society. Literacy has to be acquired and learnt in meaningful contexts and not solely limited to the teaching of isolated letters and spellings. It should be taught in a balanced way, following the balanced literacy model. In a balanced literacy model, the teacher makes use of various approaches and teaching methods that guide the learners from a controlled literacy instruction to an approach that focuses more on learner autonomy. Also, when we think of literacy very often, we limit our definition to reading and writing. However, speaking and listening skills are the basis of sound literacy knowledge. Oracy is a precursor to literacy. Our children have to be guided to develop their speaking skills and comprehension skills in both Maltese and English so that they can become good communicators as adults.”

Literacy is also embedded in the teaching of languages, concluded  Muscat: “languages are to be taught in a communicative manner where the focus is on ways in which we can communicate in various contexts. This means that a sole focus on decontextualised grammar rules might not be the best way to ensure that learners become effective communicators, both as speakers and as writers.”

 

More information on the National Literacy Agency can be found here: https://education.gov.mt/en/nationalliteracyagency/Pages/nationalliteracyagency.aspx.

  • don't miss