Image of International Literacy Day 2022: Transforming Spaces

International Literacy Day 2022: Transforming Spaces

The theme for international literacy day is transforming spaces.

Literacy is an art. It is the art of communication – both written and spoken - and our global aim as teachers and ambassadors is to make the world literate, give everyone, regardless of the multitude of barriers faced, the opportunity to become effective communicators and fluent readers. But where does this begin? And how does it happen? And why are spaces relevant?

It begins, of course, like everything else, at the beginning. From birth. It begins with the space between parent and child, or carer and child - the eye contact, the facial expressions, the sounds and gestures made within that space, the responses made by the caring adult to the sounds of their child, the dialogue and sensory stimulus, offering a space of multidimensional communication that instils the beginnings of an ability to read situations, non-verbal cues and tone and, most importantly, to begin to understand language – the key to literate communication.

As children develop, they begin to independently explore the space around them, usually with intrigue and fascination. The home environment is often intentionally or unintentionally literacy rich with a range of sensory sources – the television, magazines, books, toys with multipurpose aims and functions, adult to adult, adult to child and child to child conversation, and dare we say it, phones, tablets and laptops. All providing a range of experiences that will aid a transition into becoming a literate adult.

Then comes the next transition, another literacy evoking space outside the home - the world of early years settings, play groups and primary schools, with their wonderful and innovative ways of promoting literacy on as many levels as possible – letters and sounds on bright and bold display boards, mark making equipment of every variety scattered wide and far, tangible learning tools that aid exploration of the world and its meaning, books and signs for both mother tongue and multilingual learners, role play areas, circle time, collaborative songs and rhymes, plays, musical instruments and so much more.

Eventually, most children graduate to more formal learning spaces, whether they are ready to or not, where they are expected to demonstrate their evolving literacy skills through reading, writing, speaking and listening. Being literate becomes a much more serious business and the dimension, colour and multisensory element of the space can often fade into textbooks, whiteboards and auditory instruction. Whilst children at secondary schools may still have access to a range of resources in their learning spaces, they become more limited, and the level of literacy needed to access all areas of the curriculum becomes more significant.

Then somewhere between that initial communication in infancy and reading Harry Potter in the classroom, comes the digital space. A space like a vacuum that can hoover children in – a space that is highly debated in effectiveness for the development of literature. A space that offers multidimensional communication tools – words, sounds, images, interactive games and new worlds that we never new existed. A new way of communication. A new space. A new literacy. An amalgamation of media that communicates at a high level, arguably making our young people more effective receptors of multidimensional literacy.

So why then, with all these wonderful ‘literacy evoking spaces’, spanning from birth to 18 and beyond, are 22 million people world-wide still not literate? The answer may feel obvious - not all children and young people have access to these spaces. Some may have access to none.

During the Covid 19 Pandemic, many baby and toddler groups closed and the raise in the cost of living means nursery places and parent and toddler groups are becoming less affordable for many parents.

During the Covid 19 Pandemic, not all children and young people had access to online learning and as a result literacy levels have dropped.

Not all children are auditory learners and rely on visual and kinaesthetic methods even at secondary school and further education colleges, and often these are not available.

Many parents aren’t given support to understand how they can facilitate communication and literacy skills from an early age.

But how often do we take the time to reflect on these spaces within our immediate environment – early years settings, schools, communities, youth groups, further education colleges - and really consider the how we might make a difference?

How can we facilitate change?

  • Host parent support groups, offering guidance and suggestions on communication and spaces at home.
  • Offer baby and toddler groups to the local community at a low, non-profit making cost.
  • Constantly review resources and teaching practice to ensure you are promoting the best outcomes for all learners across the curriculum and look for innovative ways to make the learning accessible.
  • Continuously analyse individuals and cohorts of children and young people to identify gaps in literacy development and their journey from birth, looking for the spaces that have not, or are not, effectively facilitating literacy.

And, most importantly, asking ourselves that key question every single day:

How can we change the space for the child?

Not… how can we change the child for the space?