At the end of 1994 Professor Warwick Elley retired from his university post
at the University of Canterbury. He had spent years researching methods of
improving literacy in New Zealand and overseas. His plan for his
retirement was to work on literacy problems in the Third World. The
statistics on literacy levels show increasing gaps between rich and poor
countries, and Warwick has a number of ideas on how to bring about change.
How did Warwick gain the knowledge and experience for this work?
Firsthand experience in the classroom
He was born and bred in Auckland and after teaching at primary and
secondary levels in Auckland and Christchurch he left New Zealand in 1956
for England and later Canada to continue his studies and gain further
teaching experience. He taught at high schools in London and Vancouver,
chiefly in English and mathematics, and gained his PhD in Edmonton,
Continued research into literacy problems
Much of his work in universities in Canada, Auckland, Fiji and Canterbury
and at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research has focussed on
assisting children with literacy problems and assessing their progress.
While at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji Warwick conducted a
number of 'book flood' projects in the area. Large numbers of books with
high interest stories and eye-catching illustrations were issued to schools
and teachers were trained in the most effective ways of sharing them with
the pupils. Systematic evaluations of the results proved the effectiveness
of this method and other schools were able to follow this pattern. Warwick
remains in contact with those responsible for teaching reading in these
areas as the technique is used in an increasing number of schools.
Reading stories aloud
Analyses of the long term effects of listening to stories being read aloud
have shown that all children, both weak readers and good readers, gain an
increased vocabulary from this precess.
Work in the Singapore new English programme
From 1985 Warwick assisted the Singapore Ministry of Education to use the
'book flood' method in teaching English to the first three grades at
primary school. Teachers were trained in the New Zealand Shared Reading
and Language Experience methods, and regular testing of the children showed
that their reading and language skills improved with this type of tuition.
The result is that the programme is used in all schools nationwide.
Testing literacy in thirty two countries
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement
(I.E.A.) Reading and Literacy Survey
Warwick became the chair of this survey in 1988. It was conducted in 1990
and 1991 and reported on in 1992. The investigation covered thirty two
countries. Researchers investigated the standards of literacy in
representative samples of nine and fourteen year olds in each country and
compared the teaching methods used. 210,000 students were involved and
10.000 teachers, and these came from countries in every continent in the
world. Warwick described as 'a major challenge' creating tests which
'behaved' in similar ways in each culture, and then achieving consistency
in analysis and reporting procedures. Chairing an international enterprise
of such scope requires tact, a diplomatic approach and a quiet sense of
humour - qualities which Warwick possesses in abundance.
Amongst other things the I.E.A. report confirmed the size of the literacy
gap between rich and poor countries, and showed the importance of access to
Recognition of his work
In 1992 Warwick was awarded the International Reading Association's 1992
International Citation of Merit for his research on literacy. He has been
acknowledged as a world leader in literacy research with a number of
national and international awards.
A New Zealand initiative reaches out to Sri Lanka
In 1995 Warwick worked with Wendy Pye Ltd, an enterprising book publisher
in Auckland, and helped to distribute a hundred high-interest, illustrated
story books to each of twenty disadvantaged schools in Sri Lanka, free of
charge. He worked with the Wendy Pye staff to train the teachers of Grade
4 and 5 to use the books constructively to improve the children's English.
He worked with another international consultant from International Book
Development (IDB), London, to evaluate the children's growth in reading and
The results were dramatic, even better that those he had found earlier in
similar projects in South Pacific and South East Asian schools. Pupils in
the Sri Lanka project gained in English reading and writing at three times
the normal rate, and teachers were very enthusiastic. The Education
authorities plan to extend the project to many Sri Lankan schools, once
funding is in place.
South Africans test the programme in Black schools
Meanwhile Warwick has been working with READ Eucation Trust, a Non
Government Organisation (NGO) which operates in Black schools in South
Africa. READ has put some four million books in disadvantaged schools, and
trained the teachers with much the same methods that Warwick has promoted
elsewhere. Again he has assisted with monitoring children's progress in
five provinces, and has found similar pupil gains to those of Sri Lanka,
Fiji and Singapore.
He cooperated with Wendy Pye again in January 1997 to set up another
project with six and seven year olds in twenty eight more schools in six
provinces of South Africa.
Spreading the word
Warwick has reported on his projects at a number of international
conferences and has recently conducted a seminar at the World Bank in
Washington with a view to extending
the "Book Flood" formula in other developing countries. He has collected a
considerable amount of data which shows that a book-based programme using
"shared reading" and "shared writing" methods has a consistent and
impressive impact on pupils' literacy in developing countries - where
children are learning a language different from that of the home, and
reading material is scarce - a situation all too common in most countries
of the Third World.
The need to narrow the gap between rich and poor and change people's lives
by making them literate is urgent
Warwick finds that change is very slow, but the needs are obvious - and
urgent. Until people in these countries can learn to read and write
independently, they will continue to have little control over their own
destiny. The schools offer a possible way of breaking the cycle of
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