Most SA children do not learn to read in Grade 1 because they have to learn reading in two languages at the same time. It is due to two DBE documents that should align, but are in direct opposition to each other.
The Government policy on Education is firstly spelled out in the CAPS Curriculum of the Dept. of Basic Education (DBE), but in the case of Grade 1 English First Additional Language there is also a “Lesson Plan” which serves as Teacher’s Manual for the classroom. These two documents should align closely but they don’t. The thick “Lesson Plan” used by Grade 1 teachers is in direct contradiction to the CAPS curriculum. Here is something from both:
Extracts from two DBE documents that are not in accord (emphasis mine)
"CAPS Curriculum" – First Additional Language English, Grade 1
"Fortunately, children can transfer many literacy skills from their home language." When children begin to read and write in their additional language, they already know how to decode in their home language. If they learn phonics in their home language, they do not need to learn sound-spelling relationships all over again in English.
From the 3rd term of Grade 1, when learners have established some literacy in their home Language, the teacher can start labelling objects in the classroom…
In Grade 1, learners need to be exposed to lots of oral language in the form of stories and instructions… Total Physical Response.
It is important that in Grade 1 children develop a strong oral foundation in their additional language. Otherwise, they will not understand the words they are decoding in English in Grade 2, and the work they do in phonics will simply become ‘barking at print.’ Children are often able to decode in their additional language, but unable to understand what they read. They lack sufficient vocabulary and grammar to make sense of what they read.
"Lesson Plan" – First Additional Language English, Grade 1 Term 1
Use display boards. Each will be used for a different set of words each week.
Week 3: boy, girl, I play, like , you, big, small, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, happy, sad, feel.
Week 4: jump, leg, try, feet, hands, ball, touch, tongue, open, close, face, fingers, toes, arm.
Week 5: children, candle, birthday, (+ 10 more words)
Week 3 & 4: cat, hat, fat, sat, rat (mat, pat)...
Week 5: hit, sit, lit, kit, fit, pit, bit. “Guess which word is behind my back.” Sound: s..i..t.
Week 3 & 4: This is me… Week 5: I am __ years old.
(Sight Words are added in Term 3)
The CAPS resonates with Second Language Acquisition Research taught at universities.
With the Lesson Plan, however, children will not acquire much English or learn to speak it, and they will not learn to read well and with understanding, not in any language.
Is this not the main reason why SA was last again in the latest PIRLS international survey on the reading of Grade 4 learners? It was in the news Dec. 2017 that 78% of them cannot “read for meaning.” The fact that most SA children are learning to read in two languages simultaneously, and the confusion it causes them, is at the root of many of our problems.
The children who are in Grade 1 this year will be in Gr. 4 when the PIRLS 2021 survey is taken again. If nothing is done soon to stop them being confused by written English, and to teach them to read well in their own languages, their education will also be a failure.
What can be done to stop the injustice done to the masses of SA children? Can Grade 1 teachers be asked to stop using the "Lesson Plan" but rather to use only the CAPS? Can they be given guidelines in newspapers on teaching spoken/oral English? The CAPS speaks of "Total Physical Response" but teachers do not know how to teach children to react to may instructions such as Jump, Turn around, Touch/Pat/Rub your ear/ head/ arm - and later to let all children give each other such instructions. Newspapers can also encourage parents and others to help children start speaking English, so that they can know English before they start reading it in Grade 2.
Newspapers can also volunteer to launch a competition for new First Reading Lessons in every SA language, with a small prize for the winning school. (I can give some guidelines on a new method for teaching initial reading in African languages that is suited to African children and languages). The new lesson material in newspapers can then be copied by teachers for use. Parents and others can also use the newspaper material to help all our children to read soon.
Dr Martha M Cronje