Teachers lament lack of literacy skills

With Literacy Day celebrations happening this week, a Toronto-area high school teacher laments the state of his students’ reading ability.

On Jan. 25, libraries and schools across Canada took part in reaching a new world record for the largest number of children simultaneously reading the same book. The previous world record of 78,791 was soundly broken by a new world record of over 190,000 people.

Stephen Torres, who teaches Grade 11 chemistry and astronomy at Agincourt Collegiate, found news of the world record refreshing. But he says there’s a problem.

“Was it nice that some children are being read to? Sure,” he said. “It’s not a question about wealth. There have been plenty of studies showing lots of factors affecting literacy, a big one being family life. Without role models, kids won’t view books as something interesting.”

Torres says he is frustrated by students who fail to follow simple instructions on tests and quizzes. Recently, he and fellow high school teachers have resorted to highlighting, underlining, and using bold fonts when printing instructions on tests.

“I think a big part of the problem is students getting so used to electronic gadgetry. When they read something, they will read the first sentence, then skip to the next page,” he said “I call this Sesame Street syndrome, because the kids get bored of learning the same thing for 30 seconds.”

The International Reading Association based in Delaware estimates nearly 1,000 research papers on literacy are written every year, yet according to the deputy chairman of TD Canada Trust, the Canadian literacy rate has not moved since the 1970s.

Marko Nicolic, who teaches remedial language courses At Kumon (Kennedy/Steels), says many of his students express the same attitude.

“They just say they don’t care,” he said. “Spelling and grammar don’t matter to them because they go on their instant massagers or cellphones and they’re understood … A lot of parents don’t read to their children; they might be too busy, or they might not be able to read well themselves.”