Our columnist shares her experiences with students in schools Down Under.
A FORM Six student in a top-notch Australian secondary school is required to study economics and weave a 7,000-word short story to portray the ills of globalisation and capitalism.
I read one student’s work and I don’t think I could have bettered her essay when I was a university student.
Her work was massive; the creativity, the eloquence and the relevance were awe-inspiring. Not surprisingly, she graduated from the secondary level with a score of 96.50. That was not good enough, however, to study law at the university of her choice. It is gruelling but she is armed with a vast pool of knowledge acquired through her extensive reading of fiction and nonfiction.
A Form Four student in a second-tier secondary school is expected to have read most of Shakespeare’s works, and she would now, typically, be reading Joyce, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald or Orwell, and writing expository texts to critique aspects of the book. If not, she will be writing her own stories inspired by characters or themes of the many fiction works she is asked to read throughout the year.
I read the works of a student inspired by The Great Gatsby and her story – just as glamorous, her characters just as quixotic and decadent as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s – was spellbinding, and included modern elements from GenY lifestyles. This girl loves books – and she also adores every member in Girls’ Generation, one of the most popular K-pop bands.
A Form One student has it easier with his first English lit assignment. He is expected to read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and write no fewer than 1,000 words on the themes of love – be it fatal, unrequited or true love. He is struggling, as he is a boy full of adrenaline so reading has never been his forte, and books never his accessories.
He cannot comprehend the entanglement of love in the Bard’s Elizabethan era, so he is clueless, and his mum anxious. One poor grade after another, and he is now reading like never before, as if making up for lost time, lost fun. The process of becoming a well-read young man is awesome, he says.
A typical Year Five boy faces a less arduous drilling method of training before ascending to secondary school, but compared with his peers from any other country where English is a second language, the learning curve is steeper. Not only must he learn basic literacy, he also needs to hone his language skills if he wishes to be accepted into a decent secondary school.
So this boy begins reading at the young age of four, and writing at five. By the time he is nine, he is able to write all kind of texts, expository and narrative. His language is fluid and filled with phrases and skills picked up from reading, and he is naturally descriptive. The stories he writes are engaging, as he hooks the reader in deftly, and the ending is often dumbfounding. This boy may not speak for everyone of his generation living in Australia, but he is a good representation of what an immigrant son is – driven, articulate, eloquent, and well-read.
And then there is my daughter, currently a Year One student in a respected primary school. She writes information reports about where energy comes from and how we can save the environment by saving energy. Her reports are well structured, and her spelling is excellent with only the occasional mistake with words such as “alternative”, “resources” or “efficient”. Her punctuation finds the right places, and she writes complex sentences as well as adjectival and adverbial phrases to dazzle. She is not even seven years old but she knows, through her weekly reading, that renewable energy can be obtained through wind, sun and water.
An avid reader, she loves Roald Dahl and she is giving Dahl’s Matilda a second try because it was too hard for her three months ago. By the end of the second term that ends in June, she will have devoured Matilda and moved on to something else. Her teachers are demanding, but if she continues to read, she will remain in the top spot vied for by many of her peers. So she reads on.
English is thought of as a first language here Down Under, as it is in many developed countries. It is a learning tool, not a subject. When a child reads, imagination runs in his veins, giving rise to many other qualities – articulation, eloquence, empathy, logic, creativity, ingenuity, and confidence.
I have seen many cases in these five years living and now teaching here. Time and again a child will appear to be helpless and struggling in school, but once he begins to read, unfailingly his whole persona changes, as if books have injected into his veins those aforesaid qualities.
So if your child has not acquired the habit of reading, it is not too late to start. Who knows, he may end up here, or elsewhere, to pursue his higher education? Here, or there, he reads and he excels.