Why aren't our children reading well?


If you're reading this article, chances are you were in primary school before 1990. Do you remember how we were taught to read? Not only were we rapped over the knuckles if we wrote outside the lines, but we were drilled over and over again.

We read out loud every day in class, we all had to take part in poetry competitions and it was compulsory to be part of the school library, coupled with taking out at least one book a week. Not only that, we didn't make it to Grade 2, or "sub B" if we couldn't read. 

The education system has changed much over the past two decades, and the way reading and writing is being taught is rather different. Some changes are good, others are not.

What is different?

  • Classrooms are bigger. Back in the day we had one teacher to 20 children. Today, classrooms can be filled to as much as 50 children at a time. There is little room for individual attention and there is certainly no time for everyone to get a chance to read out loud regularly enough.
  • The emphasis is on outcomes. So if Billy can read the story from start to finish he gets the marks. The problem is that if Billy memorised that story the night before, he is just reciting it word for word, not truly reading. So Billy may seem like a star student when, in reality, he is battling. This is usually missed in the lower grades and only picked up in Grade 4 or higher when the workload gets more complex and difficult to ‘fake’.
  • More worksheets, fewer books. As children we used to have dozens of readers and library books coming home with us. Nowadays there seems to be many more worksheets and printouts and a severe lack of actual books. This means reading has become boring and dull for many of our children. 
  • The move from phonics to flash cards. Although children are still taught the sounds of letters (b is 'buh' for instance), the emphasis is now more on recognising whole words. So children learn to read by learning a bunch of words (and, bat, cat). This all goes well until there are just too many words to learn. So children progress from grade to grade by pure memory and not on basic reading skills. This is why your child may read really long words like "father" but battle to read a simple word like "melt" (an uncommon word, even although the phonics are simple). 
  • Focusing on the results and not the process. Teachers want children to read. From preschool our children are being taught the alphabet and small words. However, there also needs to be an emphasis on the basic perceptual and cognitive skills that are the foundation of reading and writing. These include things such as visual and auditory memory.

* Note:  Different schools and methods have different results. So these issues may not apply to all learners.

Also read: Five reasons to go to the library

Also read: Is your child ready to read?

Do you think schooling is better or worse now than when you were at school? What have you noticed about your child's schooling? Forward your thoughts and opinions to chatback@parent24.com.

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