Having strong literacy skills are important if people want to pursue higher education and advance in their careers, according to reading specialist and Dean of Social and Educational Studies at the University of The Bahamas (UB), Dr Ruth Sumner.
“Even entrepreneurs require a certain level of literacy to be successful and survive in our competitive world. I believe that everyone should be functionally literate so that they can be responsible, contributing citizens of society,” she noted.
Dr Sumner believes literacy is vitally important in today’s workforce as daily occupational demands require a strong base and essential literacy skills to function.
“Being a strong reader and writer and being able to function using digital technologies is imperative,” she said.
Dr Sumner’s passion to help others unlock their abilities through reading fuels her continued involvement with Project Reading, a non-profit organisation that teaches adults to read. She also helped establish the Bahamas Literacy Association to promote literacy across the country and elsewhere.
In her years of experience, through research and observation, she recognised that usually those more highly literate persons are who would go on to higher education. “Their aptitude and ability will work for them. It allows them to qualify for the better scholarships and grants that will assist them in pursuing higher education. They know that they will be able to cope and experience success because of their advanced literacy ability,” she stated.
It was during Dr Sumner’s childhood days on Long Island that her love for reading was ignited. She recalled there was not much to do besides attend school and church. Therefore, to pass the time she and her siblings would either play games or read.
“We also knew that in order to make any progress in life we needed a good education. This was instilled in us daily. My father was a very brilliant, well-rounded man who made sure that we studied and completed our homework and read. He did so by first reading to us and reading himself,” she said.
For Dr Sumner and her siblings, books were a big part of life.
“My father ensured that besides being able to borrow books from the small public library in the community, he provided books in the home so we would have access to them even though money was scarce and there were six of us to take care of.”
With no high schools on Long Island, Dr Sumner’s parents made sure their children received a high school education by relocating them to New Providence. Dr Sumner went to St. John’s College and grew up with family - most of whom had a passion for education.
Dr Sumner went on to specialise in English Language & Literature at the San Salvador Teachers’ College. She learned how to teach reading, as literacy was not a part of the educational landscape.
“Educators surrounded me. I grew up with my sisters and many cousins who were teachers. Upon graduating, I really wanted to work with computers but it meant having to go to the United States and my parents could not afford it. As a second choice, I applied and was accepted into the San Salvador Teachers’ College,” said Dr Sumner who in 1992 joined the then College of The Bahamas as a Language Arts/Reading Specialist in the education division.
However, it was in the Master’s programme at University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, where literacy was the buzz word.
“Ever since then, my focus has been in the area of literacy, specifically family, school, adolescent and adult literacy. In my Master’s and Ph.D. programmes, my research was in the area of literacy. Even my ongoing research is generally in that area,” explained Dr Sumner.
The veteran educator is not only passionate about literacy, but education on the whole and continues to promote its importance. She ensures UB Education students are readily prepared to meet the needs of a diverse range of young educators who might exhibit reading challenges.
“As educators, we know that the early years are the most crucial years for learning. So in the B.Ed. Primary and Early Childhood programmes, three Literacy courses are offered to prepare students, as they are responsible for teaching young children the literacy skills to ensure that they are successful in school,” noted Dr Sumner.
Reflecting on her many years in the classroom, mentoring young adults and as literacy champion for the country, Dr. Sumner remains steadfast.
“Forty-nine years later, I am still in the business of education with no regrets. If I had to, I will do it all over again,” she said proudly.