Articles, Literacy

Grade R & Russian Roulette

Smiling Grade R children sit on a bench while doing an activity with their teacher.

Do you know enough about Grade R to make an informed decision about where to place your child? If your child has already been placed, do you know what your role is during the year in laying strong foundations for literacy development?

Nursery School

You can ask any parent what a child does at nursery school all day and they’ll be able to give you a list of activities that tumble off their lips before you’ve even finished asking the question. Everyone knows that at nursery school children play, draw, cut & paste, paint, sing & dance, mold play-dough into shapes, build with blocks and play games. We also know that they learn about colours, numbers, shapes, days of the week, months of the year and seasons. Add to that vocabulary, how to wash their hands, how to look after their belongings, table manners and that ‘caring is sharing’. These are the obvious things, but of course, there is more – much more. By having fun at school kids become smarter, a little more independent and ultimately ready for ‘big school’.

Grade R – the reception year

How many parents with children entering Grade R within the next couple of years can state, with as much certainty, what takes place in a Grade R classroom? You may have a few ideas in your head, but are you certain? Are you one of those parents that thinks that Grad R is all just play and is not very important in the grand scheme of things? Do you know the difference between nursery school and Grade R? Is there a difference? Grade R is a bit of a mystery to most people and parents are not enough in the know about this fundamentally important year that can really make a big difference academically.

Grade R was initially introduced by the Department of Education to bridge the gap between affluent schools and impoverished schools and also to meet school readiness needs across the board. It has been part of the General Education Training Band (GET) since 1998. It has been around for a while and is now offered as the reception year at most public schools, some nursery schools and many Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers across the country. Unfortunately, this extra year has so far reportedly not contributed hugely to bridging the educational gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ but has actually widened it.

With Grade R being so widely available, many children attend some form of Grade R before entering Grade 1. This could be through a public school or through a private center. This should mean that these children are entering Grade 1, ready to learn, on an equal footing with their peers. Unfortunately, this is not the case for some.

There are as many variations & interpretations of the Grade R curriculum as there are ECD centers and schools out there. There is a smorgasbord on offer. So how do you choose wisely between them? What do you look for?

Is Grade 1 a level playing field

In addition, there are still some children who do not have the luxury of attending any type of schooling, let alone Grade R, before entering Grade 1. On the other hand, there are children that are already burnt out, stressed out and disinterested in school because of developmentally inappropriate learning tasks & activities, the pressure to perform and over-assessment that sometimes happens in a Grade R classroom. As a result, the Grade 1 classrooms can be an unpredictable mess of maturity levels, emotions, skills, knowledge and ability at the beginning of the year. The Grade 1 teachers are expected to level the playing field within 1 year, which is highly improbable unless they have class sizes of 10-15 children.

There can be consequences for placing children in Grade R to young

Parents are placing their children into Grade R as early as they possibly can, mostly for one of two reasons. One, which I have heard multiple times is that the fees for Grade R are lower than nursery school fees and the belief that if your child is already in Grade R at your chosen school then they will get preference when it comes to Grade 1 applications. The other is that they want their children to have a headstart and an advantage over their peers. I must warn you that putting your child into Grade R prematurely is not wise and may not give your child a headstart at all. In fact, it may even backfire and have the opposite effect if they are not ready or mature enough to cope.

Parents dare not ignore the importance of this year for childhood development, school readiness and the building of a strong foundation for the development of language learning & literacy development. However, not all Grade R classrooms are made equal and you need to ensure you find a good one.

The role of the home environment

If you listen to what some parents are saying and their versions of how they approach schools and teachers, it is evident that parents believe that education is solely the responsibility of the school. They, therefore, believe that if their child is not doing well it is entirely the school’s fault. There are so many problems that arise from this type of thinking, however, there are good reasons for why it exists. I want to challenge this thinking because after more than 20 years in the field of education I know that success is about teamwork and collaboration between the home and school and that teamwork then results in academic success and highly literate children who grow up to be employable and have great prospects in their chosen field.

The home environment plays a critical role in providing stimulation, a love of learning as well as the development of emergent language & literacy skills. If the adults surrounding a child set a good example and, through their behaviour, send the message that reading and literacy skills are important, then the child will think so too.

A parent’s attitude towards education, the school and teachers can have a significant impact on a child’s views on attending school and learning. So be careful what you say in front of them.

Raising Literate Children

“Learning to read for meaning is the most critical skill children learn in primary school. It is the skill upon which all other skills depend.” (Nic Spaull, Jan 2019). From Grade 1-3 they are expected to learn-to-read and to achieve being able to read for meaning. From Grade 4 onwards they should be able to read-to-learn. Little to no time is spent on developing reading skills after Grade 3. You will need to make an investment in a remedial intervention or pay an English teacher / tutor to assist your child in catching up. This has long term ramifications for your child’s self-confidence and your own time and money.

Literacy development is a team effort between the school and the home and the sooner you start the better. It is a daily task that slowly builds up to the acquisition of the desired skills and ability. There is no shortcut. There is no crash course. You can’t totally outsource it. The child loses out if one party is not doing its bit on a daily basis.

Do you know & understand what it takes to raise literate children or are you just winging it in the hope that your child has a successful journey through 13 years of schooling? Are you going to leave your child’s literacy development solely up to a confused and ailing education system or are you, as a father or mother, personally going to contribute?

If you’d rather find out NOW about

  • your role as a parent in the development of literacy skills
  • the ins and outs of Grade R
  • how Grade R helps build a foundation for future literacy (reading, writing, speaking and understanding)

Don’t play Russian Roulette. ATTEND my upcoming WORKSHOP at the end of November and find out all you need to know to close some of the gaps in your knowledge. It is aimed at parents with children aged 3-5 years old.

This workshop (below) is how I help parents of young children make certain that they find a good fit for Grade R and that they lay the most solid foundations for literacy that they possibly can, without leaving anything to chance. Grade R is now seen as the entry point into the school’s foundation phase, in which your child will learn-to-read and develop a solid foundation for learning at school. It is my job to show you how to ensure that this happens so that by the end of Grade 3 your child is ready for reading-to-learn rather than still learning-to-read. 

If these are your goals too, then in this workshop I will give you the knowledge that will enable you to positively contribute to your child’s education and future academic success.

Workshop

This workshop is aimed at parents with children aged 3-5 years old.

Title: The Low-down on Grade R and the Foundations of Literacy (click here)
Date: 21 or 28 November 2019
Time: 18:45 (refreshments will be served) 19:00 – 21:00
Place: 52 Kingfisher Drive (Health & Education Centre)

To make a booking or to find out more CLICK HERE.

References

Spaull, N. (Jan 2019). Priorities for education Reform (Background Note for Minister of Finance 19/01/2019. (13 November 2019) <https://nicspaull.com/2019/01/19/priorities-for-education-reform-background-note-for-minister-of-finance-19-01-2019/#comments>

Articles

Why Reading Matters | Isobel Abulhoul | TEDxWinchesterTeachers

Isobel Abulhoul addresses her TEDx audience of teachers about 'Why Reading Matters'.

Isobel Abulhoul has led a tireless campaign to improve literacy and a love of books, particularly for children. She makes many valuable points in her talk below.

In her talk, Isobel makes the valuable point that reading matters because statistically it has been shown that human beings have a better chance in life if they read regularly. She points out that reading is one of the most unique defining features of human-beings – our ability to read, write and record all that we discover and think about.

Isobel also discusses how her childhood and parents led her to her love of reading, how this waned for a time, and then how it was once again reignited by passionate teachers and good reading material. She points out that it is our duty as significant adults to find ways to help others to enjoy books and reading, especially those who currently do not.

Her message ties in with what I so strongly believe – that becoming a reader can change the course of your life, that the adults in our lives can give us the gift of literacy and a love of reading and that this allows us to take control of our own education and learning. I believe that if you can read well and if you love reading, you can teach yourself anything you want to learn. You are no longer dependent on others for learning.

Links:

Why reading matters | Isobel Abulhoul | TEDxWinchesterTeachers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gbKWco-u-I

Articles

Why we all need to start reading aloud to our kids | Keisha Siriboe | TEDxWanChai

Keisha Siriboe addresses her audience on reading aloud to kids.

I have such fond memories from my childhood of my mom reading aloud to us girls. I can still smell her, feel the fluff of her jersey against my cheek, sense the up and down motion evoked by the expression in her voice. There were three of us and we’d fight to be on either side of her, closest to her. Being the oldest child I usually had to give way to one of my younger sisters. But this gave me the opportunity to gaze at my mom while she read, taking in the effort she put in with her eyes, facial expression, speed, volume, tone and variation. All of this created the magic that everyone speaks about in relation to books. There is no doubt that it starts with the bonding that takes place.

In her TEDx Talk, Keisha Siriboe reflects on this magic when saying, “The power of parent-child reading aloud is more than just the skill, it’s the bonding and if anyone has experienced being read to or reading to a child, there is something, and I’m gonna use an unscientific term to describe it. It is absolutely magical if you experience enjoying a story with a child.”

Keisha states what we already know which is that the research indicates that 15 minutes of reading aloud a day is the minimum amount of time you need to invest in order to start seeing some outcomes. However, Keisha wants us to go beyond just these 15 minutes, which is a good start and talk about the power of reading in a way that ties back into 21st-century skills, which is currently one of the hot topics of the day.

Keisha Siriboe also stresses the role of parents & child themed books by stressing that there is no better way to introduce children to the world than through a children’s book that presents the child being a child, which is something they relate to. She also puts emphasis on the fact that there cannot be anything better than being taught by someone you love more than anyone in this world, a parent, in what should be the safest place in the world, the home.

Her call to action asking us to build a bridge that connects our children to a better tomorrow by reading to them today if a challenge that is applicable to all countries, not just Hong Kong.

Links:

Why we all need to start reading aloud to our kids | Keisha Siriboe | TEDxWanChai
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsAtwkHRorY

Articles

Why we should all be reading aloud to children – all children | Rebecca Bellingham | TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet

Rebecca Bellingham, dressed in a blue dress, addresses her audience.

In her TED Talk Rebecca Bellingham tell us, “As a teacher and a mom, I cannot think of many things that matter as much as reading aloud to our kids, at home and at school.” I completely agree with her. Being read aloud to stimulates the brain, triggers the imagination, transports you to another world, broadens your horizons with experiences that you may never personally have, triggers your emotions, allows you to put yourself in another person’s shoes and escape your own life, if only briefly. It is magic!

Rebecca passionately states, “Reading aloud gives kids a special kind of access to the transformative power of a story and the experience of what real reading is all about, which is to deeply understand, to think, to learn and discuss big ideas about the world, about the lives of others and about ourselves.” If you are reading aloud to your child daily, as you should be, these BIG conversations occur naturally. They are so important to the process of growing up.

What struck me most in this talk is that she puts forward the idea that reading aloud to groups of children makes it possible for some children to “get inside a book” in a way that they’ve never done before. For some children, this is their only opportunity to “get inside a book” and to see that movie inside their head. If no one is reading to them at home, this is it.

“Getting inside a book” is one of those very important stepping stones to reading. Children eventually want to control when and how they have this experience for themselves and therefore are motivated to pick up a book they may be dying to read because their friends are talking about it.

Reading aloud could be a catalyst to life-long reading and high literacy levels. The power of reading aloud to children cannot be underestimated.

Links

Why we should all be reading aloud to children | Rebecca Bellingham | TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBuT2wdYtpM

To explore working with Lianne in Johannesburg (Fourways, Strathavon & Bordeaux South), contact her to find out how she can meet your needs.

Articles

Teaching kids responsibility & holding kids accountable. Why it is so important?

A boy is climbing a climbing wall using hand a foot holds.

Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 6 of 10

There are a multitude of factors that determine a child’s academic success. However, there are indications that developing a sense of responsibility and accountability can have a significant impact on the quality of a child’s school performance. Being accountable means being responsible for something and ultimately being answerable for your actions.

So why is it that accountability & responsibility have such a great impact on a child’s school performance? It is all about the behaviour that this elicits. It is a very powerful thing for a child to realize that they can be positively in control of their lives. It’s life-altering for a child to discover that by choosing and directing their behaviour responsibly, they can determine the outcomes of their situation, day, week, month and year.

When a child takes on ownership and responsibility, to some degree life stops happening to them and they start an amazing journey where they discover constructive control, where they are the driver, the navigator. Being responsible and taking ownership doesn’t happen overnight but slowly becomes the norm and a very satisfying part of growing up. This, however, does not happen overnight, nor does it happen of its own accord. Children need to be held accountable in order to learn about and develop a sense of responsibility. Children need to be given opportunities, at appropriate ages & stages, to develop skills and to be responsible and to own their behaviour and decisions, in age-appropriate situations, by the adults around them. In order to do so they need to learn about consequences.

The subtle yet damaging messages created by excuses

If we do not hold children accountable and continually make excuses for them – because we think that doing household chores is too hard for them or that handing in a project on time is too great an expectation of them – then we are sending them the message that we think they are not capable, cannot be trusted, are weaker than their peers and that they need someone else to do it for them, someone who can do it better than they can. They need someone with more power, who is less likely to be challenged, to make excuses on their behalf. Many parents are taking on this role more and more. This in itself is an enormously powerful, yet negative and damaging message, that can strongly impact a child’s view of themselves.

A child who is constantly getting these types of subtle yet negative messages from the adults around them about low expectations, cannot feel good about themselves, cannot feel capable or valued. Taking this path is how we end up with university professors receiving calls from loving mothers trying to explain why their adult child did not hand in an assignment by the due date, even though it was issued 2 months ago and their child is 22 years old. Yes, frighteningly this does happen more often than you would think. Some mothers arrive in person in order to be more persuasive.

Parents need to demonstrate, instruct and encourage

As parents and teachers, we need to demonstrate, instruct, encourage and allow children to be more responsible for their actions and accountable for the outcomes, their successes and their failures. They should own all of it – the good and the bad. This is not being mean to them. In no way do I mean for you to leave a young child out in the cold (emotionally), without support or supervision, to cope on their own. Obviously, teaching responsibility and holding them accountable is a process of imparting skills from a young age, while still being supportive. It involves actively teaching them life skills and then showing trust in them by giving them responsibilities in small manageable increments. This allows parents to gradually increase their child’s responsibilities in a way that allows them to cope, in a way that builds their confidence and pride in their growing independence. What it doesn’t mean is making excuses for children when they could have, and should have, been responsible and accountable.

One thing to note is that to a large degree children learn responsibility and accountability by observing the adults around them. If the adults around them are not taking ownership, not being responsible or not holding themselves personally accountable for their own behaviours and decisions and not being good role-models, then children will NOT learn about either easily. The adults have to lead by example.

Ways to teach life skills and encourage children to take responsibility and be accountable:

  • Pick up their own toys
  • Clean up their own mess (age-appropriate)
  • Get dressed on their own.
  • Be ready on time for school with some supervision.
  • Pack their own bags the night before school.
  • Make their own beds.
  • They should know what is required of them for homework.
  • Complete projects on time.
  • Seek additional help when necessary.
  • Ask questions in class.
  • Monitor their own learning and progress.
  • Do chores at home.
  • Be responsible for taking care of a family pet.
  • Take care of their own belongings like jersey’s, lunch boxes and hats.
  • Be responsible for keeping one area of the house neat, tidy & organized.
  • Outline the consequences and carry them out when necessary – be consistent.
  • Show them what personal accountability looks like by doing it ourselves.
  • Create a safe space for them to admit that they messed up, take it on the chin, offer no excuses and make reparations. Making mistakes and failing is part of life. Learning how to deal with failure is also a key life skill that needs to be learnt.

The bottom line is that whether a child is held accountable or not is up to the parents and their chosen parenting style. If your child is 10 years old and still can’t dress himself/herself, whose fault is it? Who should be held accountable here? Most certainly the parent.

Children who have learned to take ownership and responsibility for themselves tend to…

  • get actively involved at school
  • develop organizational skills
  • be neat and tidy
  • be punctual
  • meet deadlines
  • be good at time management
  • plan ahead
  • have their own academic goals
  • be better behaved
  • push themselves to improve in areas they feel matter the most
  • have confidence in their own ability & capabilities
  • take pride in all that they do
  • have a sense of belonging
  • have better people skills and understand their peers better
  • feel less helplessness in the face of adversity
  • work well in groups
  • know what the consequences are
  • show greater leadership skills
  • care about having a healthy relationship with authority figures because they feel confident
  • go out into the world without failing or falling face down

It is a no brainer to me that this is what a parent would want for their child. Why are we then seeing so much ‘helicopter’ parenting and babying where children are being raised to be irresponsible & unaccountable, where parents arrive with a list of excuses on behalf of the child or even worse do the work themselves and pass it off as if it is the child’s work? This essentially teaches the child to lie but once again teaches the child that he/she is not capable of doing the work.

An important distinction to remember is that responsibility can be shared but accountability cannot.

Respect your children enough to hold them accountable.

Further reading:

How to teach your kids to value personal accountability by Barbara Leech
https://afineparent.com/building-character/personal-accountability.html

How to Hold Your Children Accountable for Their Actions by Laci Swann
https://www.lightworkers.com/hold-children-accountable-actions/

Teach Your Child Responsibility — 7 Tips to Get Started by James Lehman
https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/teflon-kids-why-children-avoid-responsibility-and-how-to-hold-them-accountable/

Nine Tips for Teaching Kids Responsibility by Alonna Friedman
https://www.care.com/c/stories/5219/9-tips-for-teaching-kids-responsibility/

To explore working with Lianne in Johannesburg (Fourways, Strathavon & Bordeaux South), contact her to find out how she can meet your needs.

Articles

The Secret Power of the Children’s Picture Book

A young child is reading a story with his mom about a fox.

“Even infants get profound cognitive and behavioral benefits from sharing a vivid story,” says Ms. Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal (18 January 2019).

If you are a parent you simply must read this article I came across in The Wall Street Journal. It is written by Ms. Gurdon who writes the WSJ’s “Children’s Books” column. The magic and power that lie behind the picture book have been expressed so well by her that I cannot help but publish the link here so that you can read the original article.

This is an essay adapted from Ms. Gurdon’s book “The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction“. Within 5 minutes of reading the article, I had ordered her book online.

To find out more and to read the full essay, please click the link below:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-secret-power-of-the-childrens-picture-book-11547824940

To explore working with Lianne in Johannesburg (Fourways, Strathavon in Sandton & Bordeaux South in Randburg), contact her to find out how she can meet your needs.

Articles

The Joy of Reading Aloud to ‘M’

An elephant on a patch of grass holding a sign and a giraffe driving a car indicating the use of imagination when reading books.

It is not just children that need to be read to.

I read aloud to ‘M’ three times a week. This is one of the most precious times during my week and I wish I had more time to offer her. We are currently reading a book about Sawubona animal sanctuary that is being taken away from the family that founded it. It is about the relationship between a young girl, her grandmother, a game warden, the animals they care for and the man who is trying to take away everything that they have built. I read this story aloud to her.

As I read ‘M’ is riveted, entranced, filled with wonder and oozing need. I feel it pulling at me. I don’t think anyone has ever read to her before. Can you imagine that? Watching her unfold as we go through this reading experience together is magical to me. Although she is a woman, not a child, she generally sits facing me and while I read she does not take her eyes off me. I realized this the second time I read to her. I looked up after two long pages to find her frowning in concentration and focus, leaning forward, her eyes intense and wanting, pulling at me. By the end of our reading session she stretched as if coming out of a long dream. She was grinning uncontrollably and could not stop saying how much she had enjoyed it. She did not want to stop.

Over time, her intensity and anxiety around understanding has lessened and now I find her face more relaxed and fluid, her expression changing along with mine, her comprehension growing. I stop every now and again to check that she understands or to explain a word or phrase that I feel needs clarification. We move on.

Hooked on books

To this day ‘M’ still watches my face like a hawk, for any change in expression, trying to eek out every bit of understanding that she can. But now there are added emotions – WONDER, ANTICIPATION, BREATHLESSNESS for what comes next, PLEASURE and JOY. This is where I wanted to be with her. In a place where she experiences the sheer PLEASURE of reading and storytelling – the MAGIC and the DESPERATENESS of needing to know what comes next. This is what turns people into readers. She is hooked. For life. After years of teaching, I know the signs.

‘M’ is a young South African woman who did not finish her education. Sadly, she was forced to drop out of school very early due to family circumstances. We all know this South African tale very well and we know, even better, the consequences thereof.

‘M’ moved to Jozi a while back and has just started her working career, following in her mother’s footsteps. The only problem is that she struggles a great deal with communication, which means she will always struggle to get work and to keep a job. I decided to offer her reading classes as she lives in close proximity. I have discovered that she is very keen to learn and to perhaps complete her schooling at a later stage.

‘M’ has turned out to be an avid learner. She practices reading at home even when she hasn’t been given homework. We took a trip to the library, a first-time experience for her, and she became a member there and then. She has been a bit intimidated by the staff, as the librarians are quite stern, but I think she is now feeling confident enough to visit on her own. She loves the fact that she can go shopping for books for free.

Playing it forward

What is important to note though is that in teaching, reading aloud & doing remedial reading with ‘M’, I know that I am not teaching just one person. She is young and does not yet have children, but I know that when she does have children she will ensure that they also join the library. She will set an example by reading herself. She will be a mother that passionately reads to her kids. I know that she will read to them every single day that she possibly can. I know that she knows that this could change the trajectory of a person’s life. What we are doing in our lessons now is going to seep into the future, develop a life of its own, and have a positive impact on more than one individual’s life. ‘M’ knows the value, magic and joy of reading to someone and the power that it has. She will use that power going forward.

Many people regard reading aloud as something that you only do with very young children. This is absolutely not true. Research tells us that there is much value in reading aloud to older children – even those in their late teens. Truth be told, we all enjoy a good story.

The benefits of reading aloud

Reading aloud to someone develops their auditory skills and builds and grows vocabulary and comprehension. It is an integral part of becoming a fluent reader and a literate person. Therefore, if an adult has not learned to read it is really important that they are read to by someone. This way they can be exposed to words and phrases that they are not yet able to read for themselves. Having opportunities to build & expand vocabulary is just as important and being able to read. This together with Buddy Reading (Phono-Graphix terminology advocated by Jenny Taylor of Read for Africa), where you support a learner who is reading aloud, you can make a world of difference to a persons literacy levels in a short space of time.

The befits of reading aloud to children, tweens, teens and adults

  • Positive modeling of pronunciation
  • Positive modeling of tone, intonation and expression
  • Builds vocabulary
  • Improves comprehension
  • Improves listening skills
  • It helps with discussing difficult issues with older kids
  • It’s a way to work through the classics with older kids
  • It’s a way to introduce different genres with older kids
  • It sparks curiosity
  • It contributes to a thirst for knowledge & learning
  • It’s good for bonding
  • It is very satisfying and enjoyable
  • It is a stress relief for older kids

The challenge

If every literate person in South African could take on one fellow illiterate or semi-literate South African in their immediate environment, and humbly dedicate 1-2 hours a week to improving their literacy levels by reading to them, we could, despite our Government and a broken education system, make an enormous change in our country. Building a literate nation cannot be left up to our teachers and a few volunteers. The task is too great for them as this requires many many hours of one-to-one time and teachers in South Africa do not have that luxury, unfortunately. It needs to be done on a massive scale, with everyone who is capable of reading, playing their part.

ARE YOU UP TO THE CHALLENGE?

Further Reading

To explore working with Lianne in Randburg, Fourways, Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her to discuss how she can meet your needs.

Articles

South Africa’s reading crisis is a cognitive catastrophe

An African boy is lying on the ground with a friend reading.

John Aitchison, University of KwaZulu-Natal

When the late Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko published his seminal book, “I write what I like”, in 1978 it wasn’t about individual self-expression or even self-indulgence. It was a political statement with its origins in the work of Brazilian adult literacy activist Paulo Freire.

Freire identified the profound connection between reading, understanding the world and so being able to change it. Half a century after Biko was murdered by South Africa’s apartheid state, his country is no nearer being able to do this.

Instead, many of the country’s children are struggling to read at all. That’s according to the results of the international PIRLS 2016 literacy tests on nearly 13 000 South African school children. These showed that 78% of grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. South Africa scored last of the 50 countries tested. Also worrying was that there were no signs of improvement over the last five years. In fact, in the case of the boys who were tested, the situation may have worsened.

A few weeks before these results were released, another study had found that 27% of children under five in the country suffer from stunting and that their brains are not developing as they should. Damage like this is largely irreversible. It leads to low school achievement and work productivity – and so to ongoing poverty.

These truly disadvantaged children are those of the poor; the 25% of South Africa’s population who live in extreme poverty. Given their dreadful circumstances, it might be understandable that 25% of children might not succeed in learning to read. But 78%? There has to be another explanation for that.

There are indeed reasons. They range from the absence of a reading culture among adult South Africans to the dearth of school libraries allied to the high cost of books and lastly to the low quality of training for teachers of reading.

No reading culture and bad teaching

Part of South Africa’s reading catastrophe is cultural. Most parents don’t read to their children many because they themselves are not literate and because there are very few cheap children’s books in African languages (and it must be remembered that English is a minority home language in South Africa).

But reading at home also doesn’t happen at the highest levels of middle class society and the new elite either. It’s treated as a lower order activity that’s uncool, nerdy and unpopular. And it’s not a spending priority. South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books.

The situation doesn’t improve at school. Until provincial education departments ensure that every school has a simple library and that children have access to cheap suitable books in their own mother tongues, South Africa cannot be seen as serious about the teaching of reading.

Another problem lies with the fact that reading is taught badly. South Africa closed down its teacher training colleges between 1994 and 2000. This was done ostensibly to improve the quality of teacher education by making it the sole responsibility of universities. It backfired.

Previously, universities used to teach mainly high school teachers. Now they were expected to train foundation level teachers of the first three school grades. It was an area university’s education departments knew little about. They also inevitably incorporated only those training college educators who had postgraduate degrees. Sadly, these people generally had no great interest in the grunt work of teaching little children to read. So foundation level teacher training at universities is often a disaster.

There’s been some attempt to address this bungle. The latest of them is the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Primary Teacher Education project.

The teacher training curriculum is also problematic. Most teaching about reading instruction in South Africa’s universities is outdated. Faculties of education appear to have largely ignored modern scientific advances in understanding how reading happens.

What the science says

Over the last three decades cognitive neuroscience has clarified and resolved a number of debates about reading. It has been proven beyond doubt that reading – becoming literate – alters the brain.

Learning the visual representation of language and the rules for matching sounds and letters develops new language processing possibilities. It reinforces and modifies certain fundamental abilities, such as verbal and visual memory and other crucial skills. It influences the pathways used by the brain for problem-solving.

Failing to learn to read is bad for the cognition necessary to function effectively in a modern society. The inability of South Africa to teach children to read, then, leads to another type of stunting: one that is as drastic as its physical counterpart.

The country now has generations who have been cognitively stunted because of a massive failure in its culture and educational provision. All South Africans are implicated if they don’t do their utmost to help people learn to read.

John Aitchison, Professor Emeritus of Adult Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The Consequences of Illiteracy

A young black child stands in the yard looking pensively towards his left while an older man does chores in the background. The only part of the picture that is in colour is the child's red and white t-shirt.

High illiteracy rates become a problem for everyone – the rich, middle class and poor. There are real consequences for everyone.

  • Illiteracy has a direct effect on a person’s self-esteem.
  • Illiterate learners place a financial strain on the education system.
  • Illiteracy leads to generational learning problems.
  • Illiteracy stops our society from developing at a steady rate.
  • Illiteracy negatively impacts the amount of technological advancement in our society.
  • Illiteracy increases poverty as illiterate people mostly earn the lowest wages in society.
  • Illiteracy contributes to high unemployment rates.
  • Illiteracy increases the crime rate in our society.
  • Illiteracy increases incarceration rates/jail time in our society.
  • Illiteracy leads to greater dependence on others as well as the state.
  • Illiteracy can lead to lower levels of meaningful community involvement and civic participation.
  • Illiteracy is linked to poor health.
  • Illiteracy rates increase drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Illiteracy rates have a negative effect on the overall health and well being of our country.
  • Illiterate people might not be able to be fully involved on a completely equal basis in social and political discourse.
  • Illiteracy leads to a lack of informed decision-making.
  • Illiteracy leads to struggles in knowing and understanding your rights, to vote, to find work, to pay bills and to secure housing.
  • Illiterate people may not vote or fully understand the consequences of their voting choice.
  • Household illiteracy negatively affects school readiness in young children.

Less obvious consequences of illiteracy

  • Lack of confidence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Continual financial hardship
  • Inability to change circumstances
  • Lowered life outcomes
  • Reduced access to lifelong learning and professional development
  • Dependency on others & state structures
  • Un-stimulating work environment
  • Despondency & loss of hope
  • Depression
  • Deep frustration & feelings of aggression
  • Early death due to ill health, leaving children without care
  • Feelings of being ostracized from academia
  • Having a sense of not belonging

If illiteracy is a problem for everyone, then there are real consequences for everyone living in a society affected by it. Does this not then lead us to think that it is everyone’s responsibility to do something about it. If we wait for our government to do anything about it, as we have been doing, we as South Africans are in for disappointment.

Challenge

I challenge everyone who has read this article to find ONE person in your environment who YOU can teach to read. Make a long term commitment to using the skills and knowledge you have gained and the privilege you were born into, to help build the literacy of our nation, one person at a time.

Can you imagine the impact we could have if every literate South African mentors and teaches just one other person to read. We could change the face of the South African landscape.

List of places you can volunteer to help with reading and literacy:

To read my previous article “What are the PROS and CONS of reading to your child daily?” please click here.

To explore working with Lianne in Johannesburg (Strathavon & Bordeaux South), contact her to discuss how she can meet your needs.

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What are the PROS and CONS of reading to your child daily?

A Grandmother reads to her two grandchildren.

I covered “Why you CAN’T skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day” in a previous post. Today I want to focus on the pros and cons of reading to your child daily.

The PROS of reading to your child daily are that it..
.

  • fosters parent-child bonding
  • will help him/her to associate reading with emotional comfort and enjoyment
  • prepares him/her for sleep if part of a bedtime routine
  • improves motor skills when opening the book, turning pages and gripping with thumb and forefinger
  • boosts brain development
  • helps him/her to master language
  • builds vocabulary and understanding
  • develops sound recognition
  • acts as a stepping stone for conversation
  • develops the skill of logic when reading a story repeatedly
  • teaches him/her about prediction
  • develops the imagination
  • develops and improves attention span and concentration
  • is the start of understanding sequences, which is important for math, science and writing
  • encourages a love of reading which is invaluable
  • promotes discussion (which can contribute to dinner time conversation)
  • promotes the development of healthy habits
  • is relaxing and soothing and is good for stress reduction
  • improves emotional and social development
  • will become an activity that YOU can’t do without
  • promotes cuddling, snuggling and sharing

This list is not exhaustive.

The CONS of reading to your child daily are that…

  • you have to find time in your already busy schedule
  • you have to be disciplined no matter how you feel on the day
  • you have to manage your feelings of boredom due to monotony
  • you have to get your child to bed before they are too tired for story time

It’s a no brainer. Are you convinced yet?

Further reading:

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