A major conference on literacy being held in Auckland has this afternoon been told that an upcoming Select Committee
inquiry into reading is a rare opportunity to turn the tide on New Zealand’s declining reading levels.
The comments came from ACT Education Spokesman and reading expert, Donna Awatere Huata who officially opened the
conference calling the struggle of thousands of children to read a ‘national tragedy’.
Mrs Huata told the conference delegates that while some in education ‘bury their heads in the sand and refuse to
acknowledge New Zealand’s increasing failure to teach children to read’, the fact remained that one in four children
leaves school unable to read.
“That horrifying figure translates into our adult population where 40% of New Zealand workers have literacy skills
insufficient for every day life and work,” she said.
“No other skill taught at school is more important than reading. If a child cannot read, then learning becomes very
difficult and so too does their journey in later life. We are living in the information age where not just literacy but
also computer literacy is an essential skill,” she said.
“The fact of the matter is that for the Maori and Pacific Island children who are falling behind, the gap is widening
and current reading methods have failed them. Sure, whole language works well for middle class children, but then most
things do. For the less articulate and less fortunate a radical shift is required. Where phonics works particularly well
is for those children who have limited opportunities at home to stimulate their curiosity about reading,” said Donna
“The people who most need this reading inquiry are poor, powerless and unplugged from the networks the rest of us take
for granted. They won’t be making submissions to the inquiry because if they were all able to, there would be no need
for an inquiry and no gap to close. Tragically the reverse is true,” she said.
“The Select Committee inquiry is an opportunity for all interested groups to have input into one of the most vital
educational issues affecting young New Zealanders. If you have a view I urge you to make it known. Anyone can make
submissions up to 22 May. It may be the only chance we get to rebuild New Zealand’s declining literacy levels,” said
Donna Awatere Huata. ENDS