“What do you expect children to know and be able to do when they get to school?” I asked a new-entrants’ teacher.
“It’s good if they know how to hold a book, turn the pages and that the pictures relate to the words,” she said.
“Is that all?” I asked.
“If they know the colours and count to 10, that’s a bonus,” she replied.
“Surely every five year-old can do that?” I said.
“Sadly, no, some might not even have seen a book,” she said.
That was more than 20 years ago at a small country school in a community where we knew almost every family.
It was bad enough then and it has got a lot worse:
New entrant pupils are arriving at school with the social and academic skills of 2-year-olds, Christchurch principals say.
Language, behavioural, and general social skills are so lacking in some children that learning in a mainstream class is impossible.
Bamford School principal Colin Hammond saw a lot of new pupils, particularly boys, not ready to learn.
“We’re also finding something really quite astounding in terms of academic language.”
After the earthquake, things like reading to children “went out the window” as parents focused on finance and house repairs. They were also seeing children lacking in playing skills. . .
Hammond is one of five Christchurch principals so worried about the low developmental level of some pupils they are backing a new charitable trust – Te Pito Mata Nurture Groups – that wants to introduce a United Kingdom transitional concept to New Zealand.
Their schools are eager to take part in a proposed pilot in which each will designate 10 vulnerable pupils to a specialised classroom with a teacher and teacher aid alleviating any missed “nurturing” experiences.
They would rejoin their mainstream class as they began to achieve again. . .
No-one who hasn’t been living in Christchurch should underestimate how difficult life has been for many families since the first big earthquake in September 2010.
The quakes might have exacerbated the problem but this level of dysfunctional parenting can’t be blamed on them because it’s not confined to Christchurch.
These children are in urgent need of help and the Trust might make a difference.
But what is being done to address the causes.
The seeds of this failure are planted early, long before the children get to school and if the causes aren’t addressed the damage done will continue after school.