Dissertation: An Ethnography of the Literacy Practices of Children in Malaysian Residential Care

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Jan 11 13:22:45 UTC 2009

An Ethnography of the Literacy Practices of Children in Malaysian
Residential Care

Institution: National University of Singapore
Program: Department of English Language and Literature
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Jennifer Poh Sim Tan

Dissertation Title: An Ethnography of the Literacy Practices of
Children in Malaysian Residential Care

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics

Dissertation Director:
Lionel Wee
Christopher Stroud

Dissertation Abstract:

This is an ethnographic study that seeks to understand the literate world
of children from diverse familial backgrounds, but at present living in one
particular residential home in multi-ethnic Malaysia. While residential
homes generate a lot of publicity especially during the festive seasons,
very little is in fact known of the residents, not to mention the lack of
research on literacy, which is indeed surprising, given its extensive
influence on their daily lives. For example, daily literacy activities in
the home could range from reading the grocery bills or the ingredients on
the back of a food packet, to participating in reading festive cards sent
by the public during specific festivals, to tuition and devotion sessions
with volunteers.

Given its institutional context, this study has two broad aims; firstly to
explore the notions of power and/or equity that are inter-related to the
constructions or negotiations of identities amongst the children in the
home as they learn to become socially adept, accepted or even highly
regarded amongst one another. Literacy is viewed as a set of social
practices and considered in terms of literacy events and practices. The
assumption taken on here is that literate practices have convertible
exchange values as forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1993), and as a result are a
catalyst for social transformation and/or change. Secondly, the study
considers a wider framework for community involvement and suggests an
alternative to the general assumption that acknowledges the central role of
parents in children's literacy development.

The study found that the literacy practices and events in the institution
do in fact contribute significantly towards the formation of individual
identities. It also discovered that literacy mediates relationships amongst
the residents living in this particular institution, and is an agent of
socialization, not only amongst the children themselves but also with
others adults, such as volunteers and visitors who are part of this
micro-community. As a result, literacy plays a role in socializing the
children not only into society but among the residents themselves and
through these literacy activities, interpersonal relationships are formed.
In conclusion, literacy in residential care wears many caps, it plays a
role in helping build personal relationships, aids in school readiness and
scholastic achievements and develops self identities.

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