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Donna Awatere Huata Starts Reading Revolution

Donna Awatere Huata Starts Reading Revolution

Thursday 18 Jul 2002

ACT Education Spokesman Donna Awatere Huata today launched her book `The Reading Race, how every child can learn to read', designed to change the way New Zealand teaches reading.

"The defining moment that led me to parliament was my experience as principal of a school where the children were among the poorest readers in the country. My efforts to change that situation convinced me that many teachers and Ministry of Education officials are in denial about how serious the situation is. The bureaucrats actively blocked my efforts to improve the situation.

At least one quarter of all New Zealand children are very poor readers. The result can be directly linked to the whole language approach to reading which has dominated schools since the 1970's. Before that we had an unblemished record. Since then New Zealand has developed the widest gap in the world between good and failing readers.

"Three years ago, the Select Committee agreed to my proposal to investigate why so many children are failing to learn to read. Our Select Committee Inquiry spent 18 months and heard 360 submissions before agreeing unanimously to fifty-one recommendations that provide a blueprint for a literate nation. The report was supported by every party in parliament including Labour, the Alliance, National, ACT, the Greens and New Zealand First. The inquiry was described as a "must read" for parents, the "best report on education in 20 years", and the "best report out of parliament in 10 years".

"The day Education Minister Trevor Mallard rejected every one of the Committees recommendations is the day that I started writing this book. His rejection was an insult to the work of the committee and an insult to parliament. So I decided to bypass the Minister and his bureaucrats and tell the reading story to New Zealanders.

"`The Reading Race - how every child can learn to read' is in three parts. The first part takes us through the history of the teaching of reading in New Zealand revisiting Janet and John and early readers. The second part goes through the key submissions made to the committee. The third part provides a step by step guide to making sure that every child learns to read easily and quickly.

"The book is a teaching resource for teachers, parents a well as teacher trainers. As our parliamentary inquiry discovered, teacher training colleges are producing graduates who don't know how to teach reading. The principals of those colleges should be forced to resign. Their institutions are a shameful example of what happens when tertiary educators are not held to account.

"I am proud of the book, but angry that it was necessary in the first place," Mrs Awatere Huata said.


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