BVI News

Reading, comprehension a major problem in local schools — Educators

Not the exact students mentioned in the story.

Some education officials believe a major problem plaguing the local school system is the inability of some students to fully read and comprehend well; even at the secondary school level.

This position was voiced at a meeting held to discuss the ‘additional year’ at public secondary schools on Thursday.

A number of educators in the audience agreed with the assertion that was made by a local chemistry teacher.

In her comment, she said she believes that the change in curriculum at the primary level over the years has negatively impacted many of the students who are now at secondary school.

“When are we going to combat the real issue which is comprehension? When I was in primary school, we spent a lot of time on English and Mathematics. I find that students are coming into secondary school now with inept knowledge of things that we cover all the way up to CSEC level. But they cannot read and comprehend,” the teacher said.

“So, if I teach my students a concept and I give them a test, some of them can’t get it done. But if I read to them what the question is asking of them, they get it right away, which tells me reading and comprehension is the issue,” the educator said.

Add more local books to curriculum

While agreeing with the point, author and former principal Dr Quincy Lettsome said consideration should be given to adding local books to the literature curriculum in schools.

“What we might not be considering is how much local material we have on reading because sometimes some of the textbooks we might have might be dealing with certain things that the children are not familiar with,” he said.

“For example, they may talk about an elephant in a book but then we see things like the mountain dog and these type of things around us all the time and what you find is that the children will have more interest in things that they see or can touch every day rather than things that they cannot see so much.

Ministry to probe matter, determine solution

Education Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley said his ministry will look into the matter to determine the best solution to rectify the existing problem.

“Crudus MacTavious who leads the Curriculum Unit [of the ministry] has been urging me as the minister to put some resources into the reading resources and it just needs some money. So, I am going to see what’s available in this year’s budget and going forward I would like to see how we can budget to replenish and to strengthen our reading resources and those things have to happen quite quickly,” the minister said.

Reading programmes

Dr Wheatley said he has a few reading programmes to be rolled out in the near future which he believes is essential apart from what takes place in schools.

“I have plans to partner with the Reading Council and other organisations because part of this we have to understand is a community problem. There’s a role for parents and local libraries to play and the Reading Council has an excellent programme that reaches out and read. As a district representative, I want to have reading programmes in my community whether it is after school or the weekend,” the former educator said.

Minister Wheatley further said: “There’s a role we play in the school where I believe we have to do more reading aloud. I’m still assessing what some of the issues are, since it’s so early in the term. But I am going to rely on my education officers and I’m also going to investigate to see what needs to be done to strengthen reading and comprehension skills, vocabulary, pronunciation, etcetera.”

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  1. Looking On says:

    Focus should also be on building a child’s vocabulary.

    The education department can compile a list of 100 words for each grade starting at grade 1 and make it compulsory for child to know these words. This would equate to the child learning and applying a word every 3 days.

    Also, for each school year or grade starting from grade 1 consider having an extra class called literature. Don’t wait until seventh grade or high school to utilize this subject.

    Train teachers to read and comprehend too as well as to teach the subject to the students. Sometimes it is the ones teaching and not the ones being taught is the problem.

    Reading and comprehension and subsequent application is a special skill. Writing also should be part of this class.

    Like 29
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    • And says:

      And stop these bunch of take home projects that are prepared 70% of the times by the parent.

      Like 38
      • Past tense? says:

        There is nothing wrong with a local dialect, but in Tortola (more so than VG or JVD) too many people only use the present tense when they are speaking. Indeed, it has also started to creep into their writing. There are secretaries at trust companies that write only in the present tense. Any criticism is dismissed as an attack on local culture, but until recently local culture distinguished between the present and past tenses.

        Like 4
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    • Anonymous says:

      The problem is the Tortola people speak English with their Caribbean dialect. When a child is in school and is forced to read and understand proper English it becomes the same as learning a foreign language. Dat the ting!! Perhaps you should say “That’s the thing”.

      Like 21
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      • Anonymous too says:

        Perhaps, instead of “The problem is the Tortola people…” you should say, “The problem is that Tortola people…”.

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      • ‘Tis So It Go? says:

        I am a product of the BVI school system and I speak perfect English when necessary.
        What’s wrong with my local dialect? Tis part ah muh culture pardna.

        Like 15
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        • Rubber Duck says:

          Nothing is the answer.

          But the fact is that employers judge people by the way they speak English. And accents whether Caribbean or regional to the UK or the Southern USA tend to prevent access to the top jobs.

          The guys with accents work in the warehouse. The guys without them work in the offices. Sad maybe, but true.

          • Brainwash duck says:

            You are talking sheer nonsense. Then maybe we should get rid of all the Caribbean teachers and hire just Americans or square British teachers? I think not. Are you suggesting that once you have an accent, be it African, Caribbean, Italian, etc. you will work in a warehouse even if you speak proper English???

      • TBS says:

        In all schools standard English should be spoken and encouraged by teachers. (Are Tortolians the majority teaching in our schools?)

        Like 12
      • @ Anonymous says:

        There is nothing wrong with Caribbean English and local dialect. Using the mother tongue is not a problem. It is s marker of one’s identity. Secondly, Caribbean usage is not unique to ‘Tortola people’. Stop finding fault where there is none. Thirdly, stick to your day job. You are obviously not a sociolinguist or language educator.

        Like 5
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    • No logic says:

      I agree 100%. They cut our spelling for years now. My child is now 10 and his class stop getting spelling four years ago. What a damn shame!

      That was the Government way of doing things I suppose, but sorry, I could never agree!

      Luckily I teach my child to spell.

  2. waylox says:

    I could recall the former minister saying how he found dr lettsome’s book in a shoe box. I am so glad that he is gone.

  3. Ausar says:

    What’s bothersome about this revelation, is that reading and comprehension skills seems to be sorely lacking in public schools!


    Children can leave from public institutions with poor reading skills and within a year at Cedar, improve their skills to the levels of champs!

    It’s obvious that public school officials should take a page from the books of Cedar, wherever applicable, and come up with a comprehensive plan to benefit those within the public institutions!

    Like 13
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    • Ahhh says:

      But that would require acknowledging that an outsider approach is more effective, just as we reject most other foreign ideas that we could benefit from like accountability for our actions. This report is a sad reflection of woeful educational underfunding and general disinterest in trying to create an educated society instead of one that disdains educated people, perhaps because such show us things we’d rather pretend don’t exist. Rather throw away the future of our children than admit this is a serious issue. What must they think?

      Like 13
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      • @ Ahh says:

        Our past generations recognized the value of and made education the corner stone of their and the country’s growth and success.

        Then, there was the notion that education would deliver one out of poaverty. Thus, reading, arithmetic and others were the foundational cravings to be satisfied then.

        From about 1960, however, the focus began to and now has completely changed to the acqusition of money.

        The concept of educating the mind to make money has died.

        Hence, a society now which has as its only important value, the acquisition of money.

        Like 22
    • Hmmm says:

      They sure don’t prove that in spelling B competitions.

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      • Thanks Mr. Minister says:

        Thanks for mentioning libraries. Where have all
        the reading books gone? Long time pass since they closed down the Road Town Public Library.
        Will it ever be reopened? Heaven knows.

      • Spelling bee competitions says:

        Cedar does not coach its kids for spelling bee competitions. Too many local kids spend hours being encouraged to memorise words that they will never use outside of the competition, and which the spelling bee panel cannot even pronounce on competition day. A complete wast of time.

  4. Just saying says:

    News flash: reading and comprehending is not just a problem in schools. It is a major problem throughout the whole country. That’s why people who are hungry for power can lie to us and get away with it. We don’t read first of all. We listen to gossip and run with it. And half the time when we read we fail to comprehend. We in trouble! I’m shocked that we are allowed to vote to be honest.

    Like 36
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  5. SB says:

    YOU CAN TELL. You think the social media post were a play on words? Naw that is how they spell and talk.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is a reflection of a larger symptom of which imporant values and practices have been discarded in exchange for immediate gritification and the pursuit of materialism.

    The remdedy is to have all families return to the notion that reading is essential to mental, cognitive and educational development. Then have mandatory reading sessions in the homes daily from childhood through.

    Put away the phones, video games and other distractions for a manddatory period each day, and assign that time for, again, mandatory reading.

    This is a tried and proven method for improving reading skils.

    Like 16
  7. Divajs says:

    REading and comprehension begins at home; stop throwing blame and let us as parents take up our responsibility. All my children went to public schools and then on to University in the USA and I must say good universities and they excelled in English. We read to them and not only that, we discussed the topic we were reading to ensure that they understood. My grandchildren are now in public school and they are doing excellent with reading and comprehension. So while yes, there is much to be done with the system, we need to do our part at home. Put away the cell phones and the television and help our children.

    Like 21
  8. Jimmy says:

    Critical thinking is the issue. Memorization is also the problem. They recognize questions once it’s in the form they memorized; hence, why they’ll get it correct when you break it down for them.

  9. Jus saying says:

    This also needs to start from the home. Parents need to work with their children from a young age.

    Like 11
  10. My my my says:

    Myron has totally destroyed our education system

    Like 6
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  11. Diaspora says:

    Reading and comprehension is a community problem and the company must get engaged to solve it. The community is failing its chiren, ie, parents/guardians, schools, teachers, MEC, churches, neighbors, NGOs, social organizations……etc. If the BVI chiren are not reading and comprehending, they cannot compete effectively in the world of work. If they cannot read and comprehend, they cannot function effectively in positions created in the new economy. This weakness requires recruiting offshore to meet labour needs that its people have the capability to do.

    The BVI’s chiren are failing reading and comprehension and it wants to shorten the time spent in primary/secondary school. WTF! Keep the extra year and restructure the school programme to attain the best outcome. BVI graduates must be able to compete in the global economy. A few top performers are not a true measure of success; a critical mass is needed; eliminate functional illiteracy. Need a strong focus on critical and rational thinking. A strong educational platform is vital and critical for the territory’s growth and development. The territory is a small resource-poor locale; human capital is its prime resource and it should be optimized/maximized.

    Like 17
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    • @Diaspora says:

      @Diaspora, pure BS. It is the rude a** and entitled children why they are cannot read and comprehend and for the most part functional illiterates.

      Like 6
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  12. @ Anonymous says:

    There is nothing wrong with Caribbean English and local dialect. Using the mother tongue is not a problem. It is s marker of one’s identity. Secondly, Caribbean usage is not unique to ‘Tortola people’. Stop finding fault where there is none. Thirdly, stick to your day job. You are obviously not a sociolinguist or language educator.

    • Disinterested says:

      There is nothing wrong with Caribbean English (What is Caribbean English?) and local dialect. The problem is when we cannot differentiate between dialect and formal English. If one can speak dialect on the block and speak and write formal English in a professional setting, it is all good. If one can move smoothly from one group to next, it is all good. If we atre expert in dialect and poor in formal English, there is a problem. It is ok to speak Ebonics in the right setting. If we cannot identify a run on sentence or a dangling modifier or a compound-complex sentence or a gerund or a declarative sentence or a past participle, Houston we got a problem. Texting, tweeting……etc is not helping with grasping formal English.

      Like 11
  13. My Opinion says:

    My opinion is that some of the teachers were are teaching needs more training because sometimes the children are not understanding what is being thought.

    I also think that even though the teachers are teaching from a curriculum they should try to be creative with their teaching methods.

    Like 4
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  14. Confused? says:

    Honestly… is it that these children are being described this way compared to their performance on the external exams etc? They were being lauded for their performance in the region so where is the disconnect?

  15. Beginning says:

    Learning to read and read go hand in hand. Who are our daycare and kindergarten teachers? How are children being spoken and read to? What is the cultural relevance of the literature and text used through out the system? Are teachers at all levels trained in reading remediation or intervention?

    • I said it says:

      As far as I can see I have three children. One went public and two at private. The private institution of Agape Total Life Academy produces the best readers in the BVI. Come and check my 3 year old reading and comprehending better than high school students. If you cannot read you fail miserably in other subjects. The problem begins at home. Parents read to your kids from birth and the schools will have students enthusiastic about books and the world of knowledge it contains. Trust me. Mines are still reading.

      • Just saying says:

        It is okay for the children to keep their Island accent but they have to know how to speak and pronounce the words properly. My daughter went to high school in the US and she had to learn how to pronounce and speak the words properly because she was teased for the way she spoke. BVI say Tree instead of saying Three, Bonne instead of Bone. Harse instead of horse, fark instead of saying fork etc.. She still speak her BVI accent when she is around her people but when she speak the words properly, she is accused of yanking or speaking like a yankee.

      • One eye fowl cock says:

        Read read read can’t get enough.

  16. Patricia G. Turnbull @ Disinterested & others says:

    “Houston, we got a problem”. What kind of English is this? Does showing off your knowledge of grammatical terms neccessarily make you an authority in English Education? Not even people from England have a monopoly on English Language! I am not here for likes. My intervention is fuelled only by disgust at popular blogs that are in fact misleading. While I respect everybody’s interest, this is a more complex issue at hand than we might realise, but those of us who have gained some command of English usage (albeit after many more years than the children who are now grappling with it) suddenly believe that we can package the solution in one anonymous comment. It is just laughable that like everyone else texting responses, myself included, the comments pitting “formal” English against any other variety of the language (and there are many, including Caribbean English) are loaded with grammatical errors, linguistic misrepresentations and pedagogical pomposity. I am quite concerned about the comprehension and enlightenment of our territory when it appears that everybody and their Mama has suddenly become an expert in the teaching and learning of English and comprehension, while the suggestion of Dr. Quincy Lettsome, one of our eminent scholars in educational research and practice is treated with such disinterest and disdain.

    Like 8
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    • Disinterested says:

      Patricia G. Turnbull, take a deep breath and relax before you get “the big one” as Fred Sanford used to say. No one is trying to solve the read and comprehension, a difficult process, with a blog.Gaining command of the English language is a challenging and complex process that requires a solid foundation and structure to make any progress against the head wind. Here is a news flash. People use the blogs as a means to vent their frustration, to communicate with elected and appointed officials, to express their opinions, to create controversies, to offer solutions to problems……..etc.

    • OZYMANDIAS says:

      Miss… Gooooot damn with the diatribe.

  17. Englidh says:

    How the private school children read better then the public school. Phonics should be done regular. I came for the public system English is my biggest fear to this day. I had to invest in my children in their early childhood. Parent buy baby can read hook on phonics these things really help. Read books in the with your infants. If you can not read buy books with tapes and that can help both of you.

    Like 2
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  18. ... says:

    There is no library for thr public and no library in the school!

    How will the children delevop a love of reading when there are no good books for them to read??

  19. Teacher says:

    The problem in BVI is the timetable. We want students to do too much. When you look at the timetables of the top performing education systems worldwide, BVI is not giving our students the required amount of time in language arts and maths that is needed compared to those countries.

  20. A parent says:

    I was reading to my now 10 year old daughter when she was in my stomach and after she was born. I am only saying that we as parents have to also do our part. Instead of giving them toys all the time, give them books. When I was a teenager, I use to read Nancy Drew books and save them,now my 10 year old is reading the same books.

  21. I said it says:

    As far as I can see I have three children. One went public and two at private. The private institution of Agape Total Life Academy produces the best readers in the BVI. Come and check my 3 year old reading and comprehending better than high school students. If you cannot read you fail miserably in other subjects. The problem begins at home. Parents read to your kids from birth and the schools will have students enthusiastic about books and the world of knowledge it contains. Trust me. Mines are still reading.

  22. E. Leonard says:

    If reading and comprehension is truly a problem, the territory cannot just treat the symptoms, for this approach will do little to improve the process and alleviate the problem. To fix the problem, the root cause(s) of the problem must be identified and eliminated.

    Fixing the problem will require a)active family and community engagement, b)developing a structurally sound educational policy and programme, c)adequate funding for facilities and equipment……etc, d) trained and qualified teachers, educators….etc, e)setting strong, world class, competitive, value-adding. and attainable standards…..etc

    Moreover, a strong, trained/educated, productive and functional workforce is critical to compete in the global economy. Education is a critical tool to diversify the economy and to promote national growth and development. A strong education programme will reduce the need to import labour for some job skills.

    • Quiet Storm says:

      @E. Leonard, any thoughts on the root cause of the alleged reading and comprehension problem.

      • E. Leonard says:

        @Quiet Storm, I have little to no knowledge on the education process so I will defer to the education experts to identify the cause(s) for the reading and comprehension problem. Nevertheless, what I offer is a layman opinion. There is an old adage in management that says what is recognized and rewarded gets done and repeated. Another managerial adage says don’t expect what you don’t inspect. In my view, both adages are applicable to the debate.

        Government should set high but surmountable educational standards; it should set a high bar/high expectations that students/trainees should work to scale. The bar should not be lowered to make numbers look good.

        To attain the high but surmountable standards, will require full community engagement, ie, parents, community, government, NGO, social orgs, churches, …..etc. Foremost parents/guardians play a key role in students scaling the bar, meeting at least the minimum standards. Further, if the community makes education a top priority, the success rate will soar.

  23. Just me says:

    Learning starts at home. Parents are their child/ren first teacherd at home. Too many parents are expecting teachers and the education system to do everything except discipline their child. If a child does not want to read, spell etc. Theirs nothing the teacher can do. If this is done at home the teachers will be able to reinforce while teaching. The child fail they blame the teachers all the blame is cast on teachers and never the ones who the child belongs too.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Too many concepts are being taught in the primary school. Consequently, there is less time for indept teaching of many of the foundational skills.
    The packed curriculum has not only resulted in poor performance in some key areas but we can also note that students are burnt out, parents are burnt out and teachers are burnt out. It’s time to stop the table talk. It is time for action. It is time for a comprehensive education review. We need to address our challenges and address them now.

  25. hit the nail on the head says:

    Let us get back to immersion in Phonics in kindergarten and grade 1 as well as reading out aloud, writing, and comprehension throughout the Primary School level.

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