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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain

beyond.  Their tuition is based on that estimate and in many cases they are wiped out of any reckoning of ability made in future tests.  These children have very little chance of altering that early assessment of their capability unless their subsequent development is so outstanding as to force the educationists to revise their “results”.  The late developing average child has no chance at all with the present system.

The causes of this rigidity on the part of educationists should itself be considered if attitudes to the illiterate are to be changed.  A recent paper by P. C. Squibb of Bingley College23 studies the backward or less able child.  Squibb postulates that although many teachers may disagree with testing per se or to its methodology, those who reach positions of power in education tend necessarily to accept the dominant ideology and will continue to initiate and support that ideology.  Dissenters will not usually achieve the status necessary to effect any significant changes in approach or ideology.

Squibb suggests that the concept of “less able” or “backwardness” to a social construct serving social purposes.  He states:

“…. the concept of less ableness or backwardness whilst it may say something real about some children .... must be seen as having other purposes and reflecting better intentions.  In short, I think it reasonable to suggest that it provides an ideological rationale for an uneven and inequitable distribution of educational resources.  It also hides and disguises the inefficiencies of much of the teaching and other educational processes, which take place in schools, and therefore prevents or inhibits criticism and analysis of teachers and education.  It stops us realising that the content of the curriculum is not a body of skills, knowledge and values which teachers teach to children, but it constitutes the means by which prior differential classification is legitimated."24

Following on those thoughts, one must then consider the changes that need to be effected to eliminate the unconscious “labelling” of children, and at the same time to awaken awareness of the vital need for early stimulation in the young.

Some years ago a film was shown on television entitled “If at first you don’t succeed, you don’t succeed”.  Much of the theme was on the need for parents to participate and contribute in their children’s education but an allied theme was that of the value of stimulation for the mental emotional and physical development of infants from the earliest age.  Film was shown of babies of six weeks responding deliberately to stimulation such as their mother’s voices, light and sound.  

These ideas add weight to the necessity of making available universal provision of nursery schools and playgroups for the 2 - 5 year olds, especially where this stimulation is lacking in the home environment.  It is of little use forcing unwilling adolescents to remain in school beyond the age of 14 or 15 if they are not able to take advantage of the education offered.  It would be more valuable to the nation and to the youngsters individually, if they had received adequate socialisation and educational stimulation from a very early age.  Then they may be more fitted to benefit from the later school leaving age now imposed.  Naturally no-one would argue that those who wish to do so should be prevented from remaining at school until 18 years.

23 Squibb P.C.: “Notes towards the Analysis of the Social Construction of the “Less Able” or “Backward Child”, Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 1 No. 3, 1977.

24 Ibid.

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 27 of 51

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