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Literacy and Its Importance (Part 2)

25 Oct 202219 Mins Audio

Transcript

Speakers:

Dr. Duriya Aziz, SUSS alumni and Senior Vice President at Scholastic 

Dr. Lye Kit Ying, Senior Lecturer, Centre for University Core at SUSS (Host)

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Transcript

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00:00:02:00

Welcome to the SUSS series of podcasts that shares, questions, and dives into all things personal development. Because learning never stops, especially after graduation. This series will share insights, ideas, and advice, on shaping ourselves to prepare for a future of uncertainties.

Previously on SUSS Podcast:

Duriya

00:00:28:00

Every child should find himself or herself in the pages of a book. This may be in the role of the self, or it could be an empathetic other, or an active supporter of a character. Every child should learn to see the characters in a book, diverse books, and themselves as members of common humanity.

Duriya

00:00:47:00

So it's not only about seeing the differences in a character from themselves but also seeing the commonality. That both of us face the same problems and sure, this child may look different from me, but at the end of the day, we are both children, we are both loved by our parents, we both have a family that cares for us.

Kit

00:01:07:00

I particularly liked your point about how stories are not just mirrors and also windows to other worlds. It helps the child to actually build a sort of confidence when they see themselves being represented or their struggles being represented as well. So this is something that, I think, is a topic of discussion lately where there's so much emphasis on maybe mathematics, science with coding.

Kit

00:01:32:00

There is some sort of competition between subjects and all that. And people seem to have kind of pushed stories to the back of the importance of learning. What are your thoughts on that?

Duriya

00:01:43:00

Well, I think that STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] or STEAM [science, technology, engineering, the arts and math], as we call it today, is very important in a technology-driven world. Of course, we want to make our kids comfortable with technology. We have to make them comfortable with technology. We have to give them the skills. Not everybody's going to become a coder or an engineer or a scientist, but regardless of what you do, you will have to have technology skills.

Duriya

00:02:09:00

You cannot be a technophobe. And I think that books actually go a long way in promoting this. I don't see that the two are in conflict. So, you know, stories, which show, for example, particularly we find that there are certain communities that may be underrepresented in STEM fields. Girls may be underrepresented in STEM jobs.

Duriya

00:02:32:00

We know for a fact that typically women earn less than men in STEM careers. So to encourage these communities, we must give them stories, to celebrate success; that show good role models that talk about stories of women of these marginalised communities coming forward with confidence in these fields, so that children will gain the confidence.

Duriya

00:02:28:00

Because books can be one of the few places where children may meet people unlike themselves. They can learn to understand and appreciate differences and embrace it. So in that sense, literature and stories are powerful in their capacity to change us, to change our outlook on the world, enabling us to envision a future that we may not otherwise have thought about.

Kit

00:03:22:00

Yes, that's very beautifully said. Thank you. I think this leads us to the next question. We are now actually witnessing a great shift in the way we consume content. Parents of the current school-going generation, they were brought up in a time when educational technology was utilised very sparingly in school.

Kit

00:03:42:00

In the nineties and even in the early 2000s, the use of educational games and software was not prevalent. And some even argued that these content did not boost academic development at all. But of course, you know, now we live in a very different world today. We are in the Industrial Revolution 4.0. Some even say that we are already in 5.0, so with advanced computer technologies and the resulting mobile connectivity, education technology may become a part of our learning and our everyday life.

Kit

00:04:14:00

We can learn anything and really anything by just going online and clicking on a video or just reading a Wiki page. So, what's your opinion on the effectiveness of education technology?

Duriya

00:04:27:00

Well, that's one of my favourite topics. So with the pandemic, the greatest and most widespread exercise on the use of educational technology began, right?

Duriya

00:04:38:00

You had literally billions of kids using educational technology to learn. In fact, in many parts of the world, they still are. And so I doubt that we will go back to the pre-pandemic days of no technology. I mean, even pre-pandemic, it wasn't no technology, but it was a different kind of use of technology.

Duriya

00:04:57:00

But I think there will be some level of adjustment. We were undoubtedly and irrevocably, whether we are parents or students, whether we are adult learners or children or teachers, we were forced to use technology. And in doing so, we learned about the benefits. So, prior to the pandemic, teachers may have believed that they can do this more effectively in person, but they have seen the benefits of technology, not all of it. But I'm sure teachers are discerning in understanding what is useful and what is not. Likewise, students are discovering that.

Duriya

00:05:34:00

I think the biggest gain has been parents. Parents have understood the value of technology in education. Previously it used to be parents just getting annoyed, seeing their kids playing games or watching cartoons or watching YouTube videos. But they now look at these devices and this technology as something different.

Duriya

00:05:54:00

So, while there will still remain concerns about kids stuck to screens, I think technology is definitely a game-changer for education and learning. And the reason, as the pandemic showed, is access. In the most dire of circumstances also, technology can provide access to everyone.

Duriya

00:06:15:00

So in the very affluent countries, we had Zoom classrooms and all kinds of gizmos, apps and software being used. But I've also seen that in the most challenging of circumstances, you know, where kids are living in slums and tenements, parents are able to provide children continued access to learning on WhatsApp.

Duriya

00:06:39:00

Even a WhatsApp message from the teacher becomes a means of continued learning for this child. And for that child, that is the technology. Previously, it used to be that the book is the only technology, right? But no more.

Duriya

00:06:55:00

Particularly as far as reading goes, technology provides access. It provides choice. It provides personalisation. And I say this because at Scholastic, we ourselves have developed a product called Scholastic Literacy Pro, which is essentially an e-library with a lot of customisable features, kid-friendly features and stuff. When the pandemic started and there were widespread school closures, we made the decision to provide free access to all schools who wanted to use it, so that kids could continue to read. Because we understood that you know, for so many kids, the only opportunity to read was in the school, in the library.

Duriya

00:07:36:00

And if they're stuck at home, what are they going to read? And that reading loss would slide them downwards, and they would really suffer. So through that, it ended up for us being a huge experiment in learning, and in reading.

Duriya

00:07:50:00

But we saw the uptick in the reading behaviour. We saw that more and more kids were reading. They were taking the quizzes that were associated with the books, and we continue to see that. So it wasn't that when school closures ended, kids stopped reading. So that's a habit that was fortuitous, I guess, with the school closures.

Duriya

00:08:10:00

But it was a habit that was formed, but it continues to this day. So with technology, with these e-libraries, where a child could previously take one or two books home, today, in his device, he’s taking a thousand, 2,000, 3,000 books home.

Duriya

00:08:25:00

And he has a choice. So based on his reading level and his interests, he can choose which books he wants to read.

Duriya

00:08:33:00

The teacher can assign books for him to read according to projects that they're working on or things that they're learning in class. And with the data that we are collecting, we can plot the child's progress. We can predict where he's going on his reading journey. So all of this technology makes [it] possible.

Kit

00:08:50:00

So, from what you've said, technology and education technology has really helped to boost the literacy rates and encourage the cultivation of this passion for reading.

Kit

00:09:00:00

But this is really for the school-going children. In your opinion, what about adults? How would you approach the need to encourage adults to read differently?

Duriya

00:09:09:00

Where adults are concerned, I guess we have to break it up into two bits. Reading for a specific purpose, and reading for pleasure or leisure. And it's very likely that if they're given a choice, they won't read for pleasure. But let's take the first part because that's, I guess, directly connected to their success at work or whatever.

Duriya

00:09:29:00

So these are specific reading skills that even adults can develop, about how to focus, how to scan, how to skim, how to draw a conclusion. All of these things are skills that can be developed as adults, as long as adults are given something that is meaningful, purposeful, and relevant. So they need to find these things and read accordingly.

Kit

00:09:52:00

So, because we are all about lifelong learning and just now you mentioned that it's possible, it's not too late for adults to actually cultivate or learn the skills of critical reading.

Kit

00:10:01:00

A lot of what you said about drawing conclusions, scheming and all these, are critical reading. To go back to the stories again, how would you use stories to encourage adults to learn critical reading?

Duriya

00:10:12:00

I think there's lots of inspiring biographies, autobiographies that adults would enjoy.

Duriya

00:10:19:00

For example, I'm currently reading Indra Nooyi’s autobiography. She was the former CEO of PepsiCo, the first woman head of a Fortune 500 company. It's inspiring. And I think when we look at these stories that are relevant, we automatically get involved and we get engaged in reading.

Duriya

00:10:39:00

I think probably adults should pace themselves, find a book that's on a subject that they enjoy reading, but also start with small bites. So it's like, don't try to climb Mount Everest on your first attempt, right? Start with Bukit Timah hill first. If you're not the type to have always read text-heavy books, then you should consider reading graphic novels, for example.

Duriya

00:11:01:00

So a recent example that comes to mind is, my son and I were reading Sapiens, which is thick. But there is also a graphic version of it. So you could actually read the graphic version of it first, and then go and read the text-heavy version of it.

Duriya

00:11:20:00

So if you look at Leo Tolstoy’s great novels, or if you even look at the Harry Potter books, if they're difficult to read, go and watch the movie. Then go and read the books and you'll see nuances. Just because you've watched a movie doesn't mean you won't enjoy the book. You will enjoy it, you will in fact enjoy the book more.

Kit

00:11:38:00

So based on what you said earlier, using movies and reinterpretations of these classics or some of the written stories, and coupled with, let's say, the materials available from educational technology.

Kit

00:11:51:00

Would you say that when parents and their children learn together, they can actually strengthen the family bond and build a stronger society, while building the skills for literacy competency?

Duriya

00:12:03:00

I think we have to accept the simple truth that you are what you read. And therefore, it is so critically important to establish the child's identity as a reader.

Duriya

00:12:13:00

Our ultimate aim, as an educator and as a parent, should be to help all children to become proficient, avid readers who bring passion, skill and a critical eye to every reading encounter. You cannot overemphasise the lifetime benefits of reading.

Duriya

00:12:32:00

Because you read, you can learn about anything; you can travel anywhere; you can find answers to your questions, and you can ask good questions as well.

Duriya

00:12:42:00

So I think that the role of parents, of caregivers, and particularly for us at Scholastic, we see our role as helping a child to discover a book that can change their life. And in doing so, they will change the world. By supporting our youngest readers with access to engaging relatable stories, to stories that spark their innate curiosity and answer the desire to be heard.

Duriya

00:13:06:00

So we must help young people discover what they want and need from books and together, build a way forward to ensure that they will have access to the books, which will ultimately help them shape our collective future. Because ultimately children are our future. What we do today for them, they will do for the world tomorrow.

Duriya

00:13:27:00

And therefore it is so important to help the children that we know and love to discover the immeasurable joy and power of reading.

Kit

00:13:36:00

All right. That's very inspiring. So are there any stories that you would recommend to kickstart this journey to literacy or a refresher?

Duriya

00:13:45:00

Well, there are stories all over. I don't know where I would start. But, when I look at my grandchildren who are between the ages of two and nine, we have spent a lot of time reading the books of Julia Donaldson. They're amazing. And then we read the books of Eric Kyle.

Duriya

00:14:04:00

There's a lot of local books that we like to read. There was a recent one that we were reading about this child who was wondering why his grandma kept asking these strange questions over Chinese New Year. And that was so fascinating because I mean, obviously we're Indian and Muslim. So we celebrate Eid. But the whole episode of reading that book really brought alive to my grandchild the whole experience of Chinese New Year from a child's perspective.

Duriya

00:14:36:00

And so when they had to do the decorations, et cetera, for celebrating Chinese New Year in her kindergarten, it became so much more meaningful to her. And I'm sure those memories will stay with her.

Duriya

00:14:49:00

For me, I read anything. But I would recommend that people find the books that they enjoy and have a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Kit

00:14:59:00

I really liked your story about how, when we read stories of other cultures or we read stories about people who may be different from us, or even if they are the same, we share commonalities. We are able to experience much more and understand the meanings of our world a lot more.

Kit

00:15:14:00

Would you see that this is how literacy contributes to social good? To building a better society?

Duriya

00:15:21:00

Absolutely. I'd like to talk about my favourite Julia Donaldson book, which is The Ugly Five. She wrote it after a visit to Africa.

Duriya

00:15:29:00

She went on a safari and you know, when you go on a safari, you talk about the “big five” – I think it's the lion, the giraffe, the rhinoceros, the hippo [and] the elephant. Yes, these are the “big five”. So she came back and she wrote this book called The Ugly Five, which is about the five ugliest animals on the African plain. And if you read that book, it comes as a shock.

Duriya

00:15:50:00

It’s like, “what kind of a book is it?” You know, you’re talking about the ugly five. But it is such a thought-provoking book. It starts off with the narrator talking about, “Oh, this is the African plain, these are these beautiful animals, but wait, who is this ugly animal here? Who's walking here?”

Duriya

00:16:05:00

And then this animal, I think it's a hyena, and then it's the ostrich. It's a vulture and animals like that. So one by one, they're saying, “I'm the ugly one. I'm the ugly one. Look at my feathers. They're so ugly” and this and that. And then the book ends with, you know, it's five ugly animals saying, “We are the ugly five. Nobody loves us because we are so unlovable and all of that”.

Duriya

00:16:27:00

At the end of the book, it's the children, the babies of these animals saying, “No, you are so beautiful. Why would you say that you're ugly? You're beautiful. You're the world to us. You feed us. You look after us”. And so I used to read this book with my granddaughter who’s nine. But when she was going to kindergarten, we used to drop her in the car every day. And so this was our routine in the car.

Duriya

00:16:50:00

She and I used to sit in the back seat and we used to read this book and talk about it. And she said, “Daddy, Ma, you can't call anyone ugly. Why would you call anyone ugly? There's beauty in everyone. Everyone's beautiful.” And then she pointed out to the vulture and said, “Look! The pink colour on his neck. It's so beautiful.”

Duriya

00:17:09:00

So to me, this was such an important moment that, for a child, everything is beautiful. And in the process of education, we actually changed that. What a shame. And this book actually points that out. That the dominant group in society, the narrator has already declared that these five animals are ugly, and these animals start believing that they are ugly. And that's terrible, right?

Duriya

00:17:37:00

And then their children are saying, “No, you're not ugly. You're beautiful.” So these children who are unaware of the ways of the world are able to tell their parents, “You’re beautiful.” But I worry about what happens when these children go to school. When they get, so-called, you know, educated, then will they also accept the dominant trope of society and start believing that they are ugly?

Duriya

00:18:03:00

So for this reason, this book by Julia Donaldson, I've used it in so many literature workshops and so on. But even a child can appreciate the message in this book, but it has a message for all of us.

Kit

00:18:17:00

So, to summarise what you have been saying is how literacy not only opens up the world to the reader, whether you're young or old. it also enables you to acquire the competencies, for financial literacy, for critical reading, for moving forward with life.

Kit

00:18:33:00

It also encourages you to be more empathetic, and of course, eventually all of these should allow our society to thrive, and we become a better society for that. And you've also mentioned that education technology is actually something that is boosting [the] literacy rate around the world. And I find all of this very fascinating and really thankful for your insight.

Duriya

00:18:56:00

Not at all. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Kit

00:18:59:00

And thank you for joining us.

-

00:19:02:00

You’ve been listening to the SUSS series of podcasts. To find more episodes, visit suss.edu.sg/podcast.


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