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The English language has always been wide-ranging, inclusive and universal. English is like a living language and in today's educational challenge, literacy in English is not just limited to basic reading and writing skills - it encompasses multiple literacy skills in text, media, information, computer, visual and many more.
Literacy, is described generally as the ability to read and use written information and to write appropriately, in a range of contexts (Australian Educational Council, 1994). According to Luke's and Freebody's (1999) 'Four Resources Model', a literate person needs to be able to (i) break the code of texts, (ii) recognize the meanings and social origins of text, (iii) to recognize the roles and functions of texts and (iv) to critically analyze texts which are never neutral and influence how people view the world.
Four models of English as a school subject were designed by Stephen Ball - English as skills, English as a great literary tradition, English for personal growth and English for critical literacy. English as skills emphasizes on language standards and correctness, imposed by the state through an official curriculum. Individuals are equipped for their future roles, in example, citizens or employees. English as a great literary tradition represents a model in which an elite imposes a canon of great literature, with an emphasis on exposing students to culturally significant texts that embodies society's highest values. English for personal growth emphasizes on individual creativity, providing students with experiences that relate to them and help develop their own values. English for critical literacy emphasizes on engaging and exposing ideological values in all texts, so that they can be critiqued and challenged.
In the following paragraphs, I will discuss more on two of the four models - English for personal growth and English for critical literacy.
English literacy was connected to literature, which was to play a crucial role in the personal growth of a student. The Newsom Report (HMSO, 1963) highlighted the essentiality of fluent spoken English. 'Any definition of literacy for pupils must include an improved command in spoken English (HMSO, 1963, para 467, p.153). In the same report, English is to be used to develop the social competence of the pupil. 'All pupils, including those with very limited attainments, need the civilizing experience of contact with great literature' (para 473, p.155). Unsurprisingly, concerns were raised on the probable stress children would face from the escalated progress on English literacy well above their maturity level. I feel that to have literature imposed on children would be illogical and over-ambitious. Literature comprehension will pose problems for children in understanding intricate texts and contexts, which may lead to disinterest.
With the growth in cultural diversity in English-spoken countries throughout the world, the philosophy of instilling personal growth with English literature became irrelevant and inappropriate. New ways of connecting and inspiring students from diverse cultures and backgrounds were introduced. English was involved as a means to achieve higher values inherent in the individual and not in canonical contexts. This approach embraced every child's heritage as part of personal growth (Dixon, 1975) compared to Newbolt Report's discriminatory concern to shift working-class children away from their 'evil habits' (HMSO, 1921, p.59), the cross-communication that involves language and culture which takes place at home. To abandon the language and culture of the home in order to attain the levels of Standard English seems too far-fetched and constrained an effort, with only discriminatory implications towards migrants and non English-speaking families. I feel the need to attain Standard English should not be achieved at the expense of invaluable cultural heritage.
The second model I would like to discuss is the model of English for critical literacy. Critical literacy involves the analysis and critique of relationships among texts, language, power, social groups and practices. Readers and writers are inevitably influenced by their own beliefs, gender and power relations (Lankshear and Knobel, 2003) as well as manipulation through textual representations from vocabulary to grammatical patterns. Critical literacy is important as in our modern and advanced times, information is reaching us in various sources of multimedia, complicated visual representations, music and written texts and spoken words. With rapid change in our society, critical literacy allows us to think about whether messages have positive or negative effects upon our lifestyle and unmask social bias and unjustness. In the curriculum, through critical literacy, students are empowered to compose a range of genres that they can deploy in pursuit of their own purposes, irrespective of whether these are personal or political. The UK National Literacy Strategy (Ofsted, 2003) sought to integrate critical literacy tradition with genre-based approach to the teaching of writing, which Australian-based linguists Michael Halliday and Jim Martin had strongly advocated since performance in writing was not being taught in schools, and yet determined success in education. As a result, working class and migrant children were not exposed to such models of writing, as opposed to middle-class children who absorb this model gradually.
Back when I was in primary school, I remember learning English was fun and interesting as I loved learning new English words and catchy phrases. In primary three, story books were very much a part of classroom lessons and activities, and I feel books give people access to various experiences and perspectives. The opportunity given by the teacher to every student to read short stories aloud to the whole class helped in building confidence in speech as well as improving speech and communication. We were also encouraged to mimic different voices of the characters in the stories according to how we imagined their characters to be. The teacher's model in emphasizing the student-centric approach was akin to the English for personal growth model, where English is taught with the student in mind, as the central focus. The model used by my teacher too was relevant and I felt it was an important stage for a student of my age then to go through as personal growth provides the ability of students to develop our imagination and aesthetic senses, which would prove valuable in discovering our sense of self. Our teacher allowed us to use our imagination and creativity, through language.
When I was in secondary one, in an English lesson, the teacher asked if 'Can you tell me where is the hall' was a correctly structured sentence. Two students answered. The first one said yes and our teacher shook her head and smiled to indicate otherwise. The second student said 'Can you tell me where's the hall'. Again, our teacher smiled gracefully and encouraged her to think and try again. I knew the answer, yet it was not only about correct answers or standards that I learned from that occasion. It was our teacher's grace, tact in speech and her demeanour, patience and sensitivity in handling her students. These qualities are exactly what I have always tried to emulate in my profession today as a civil servant, dealing with people of all backgrounds in mostly difficult and tense situations. English as skills emphasizes on standards and correctness and these factors in language do make a difference in communication, in terms of impression and professionalism.
Literacy is fundamental for learning in school. It determines a student's ability to participate in a society and to understand important public issues. As skills, personal growth, literary tradition or for critical literacy, English literacy is crucial to the success of all individuals in their life aspirations.