Friday, November 12, 2010
The source of school failure
From the Sydney Morning Herald Today
One in five Melbourne four-year-olds have difficulty using or understanding language, a new study has found, putting them at risk of long-term learning difficulties.
The study of 1900 children, published today in the journal Pediatrics, found that social disadvantage played a major role in the language outcomes of four-year-olds - despite having little effect at age two.
Lead researcher Professor Sheena Reilly said her team found large variation in language at two, with some children not yet speaking and others saying hundreds of words.The average vocabulary was 280 words, but one child in the study was using more than 600 words.
She said the different outcomes at two were largely explained by genetics - with girls doing better than boys, and those with a family history of speech or reading problems more likely to have problems.
'When we looked at things like socio-economic status, mothers' education and vocabulary, they didn't seem to explain what was happening in those young kids,'' she said.
'When we got to four, biology was still really important but social disadvantage suddenly became really important as well. So these two things balanced together are obviously explaining much of the outcomes at four.'
Professor Reilly, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Melbourne University, said it was possible that disadvantage had a cumulative effect on children's language outcomes over time.
'So it was always there, but you really start to see this diverging gap between the kids who are and are not disadvantaged as they get older, and the richness of language becomes really important,' she said. 'If you're not exposed to [rich language], you're really missing out.'
Professor Reilly said some children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and whose genetics also predisposed them to language difficulties, suffered a 'double whammy'.
For four-year-olds who still have difficulties, Professor Reilly said, the study suggested that enriching language in the homes of disadvantaged children could help improve outcomes.
'In some children it might be as simple as talking to them a bit more and turning off the TV, reading books, or playing interactive games that encourage the child to use language and give them an opportunity to listen,' she said.
'Language skills are foundation skills and if they are starting school … not as prepared as the rest of the children, they're not going to be able to take off. Our fear is that this gap will get even bigger.'
Seems like common sense to me.
What all children need are rich sensory experiences in the company of caring adults. 'Before the word comes the experience'.
We need to bring back those neglected language experience programmes. We need to help chidren explore their immediate enviroment and express what they see. We also need to value their own experiences as the basis of early reading and writing.
Such ideas would be a better solution than the false promise of jolly phonics!
And, if we could develop this richness of experience from an early age, we wouldn't need the reactionary populist simplistic standards so loved by politicians and conservative parents.