While some blame teachers for poor literacy levels at school, Cotlands believes that our school literacy problems are far more complex.
According to a recent study by the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit only 5% of grade five students are able to read at the required rate of 80 – 90 words per minute.
NEEDU spokesperson Dr Nick Taylor attributed these shocking results to a drop in the standard of teacher qualifications.
However, Cotlands – a non-profit children’s organisation working in the early childhood development space – believes that the problem starts even before children enter the classroom.
After years of research and more than seven decades of working with vulnerable children, Cotlands says that in order to address these literacy concerns children need to be taught pre-writing and pre-reading skills which begin before Grade 1.
Reading and writing skills are learnt even before our formal schooling career begins. The first 5 years of a child’s life – when they are most receptive to new information – are the most crucial to ensuring children are well equipped for school.
Children develop a connection between letters and sounds through imaginative play, rhyming and word games.
Children who are given early learning opportunities display a marked improvement in their reading and writing ability. These foundation phase skills put children who have access to early learning opportunities in a much better position to perform well academically.
Rhymes and songs may seem like parrot fashioned learning however, children below the age of 5 associate letters with sounds which enable to them develop stronger reading and writing skills.
This foundation phase learning is vital for success at later grade level. Children who are not exposed to early learning opportunities are placed at a disadvantage compared to those who do receive early learning opportunities.
Research suggests that even in well-resourced institutions students who have not received early learning opportunities and have not capitalised on that crucial window of opportunity stand very little chance of recovering those lost years and their failure is perpetuated throughout their academic career.
It is for this reason that Cotlands advocates for quality and equal early learning opportunities for all children.
According to the Child Gauge 2013 report the has been a significant increase in pre-school access with 90% of 5 – 6-year-olds, and 55% of 3 – 4-year-olds attending some kind of educational institution or care facility.
However, the quality of stimulation and learning could not be quantified.
We sometimes assume that children in day care centres are being stimulated and prepared for school but, this is often not the case as many centres in under-resourced communities function merely as baby-sitting facilities. This does little for later learning as it is vital for children to have access to resources and constructive stimulation if they are to excel at school.
Through its early learning groups operating in five provinces and its mobile toy libraries, Cotlands is working to improve the quality of early learning given to vulnerable children. Cotlands services also provide early childhood development centres and crèches with training and resources to help them improve the quality of learning.
If we are to see improved literacy results at school we need to be serious about tackling this critical problem. It is difficult to plough resources into a method of learning that will only yield results in a few years but, the consequences of not doing so will perpetuate poor academic results.