Education not just for school

She was 10 and in the middle class of a three class country school where all the other pupils were aged 7, 8 or 9.

The best of these were reading chapter books, she, the eldest, was reading books below the level of the youngest – the very early readers with a few words in large font and clear pictures on each page.

I was there as a parent helper and listening to her read. When she got to the word mug and couldn’t read it I was perplexed because she’d read mum and jug earlier so knew the sounds.

After a few moments of fruitless attempts I pointed to the picture and asked her if she knew what it was.

“Yes, that’s a cup,” she said.

I said it was like a cup and asked if she had cups and saucers at home. She said she had cups so I asked if she’d heard of mugs. She hadn’t.

I explained what a mug is and we got on with the next sentence.

But I wondered about her home and family if her vocabulary was so poor she’d never come across the word mug before and couldn’t use her knowledge of words with similar sounds to make a stab at reading it.

This was her seventh school but in spite of the best efforts of her teacher and several parent helpers, she made little progress and she was there only a few weeks before her mother moved again.

She’ll be around 24 now and while I’d like to think she’d succeeded in spite of her homelife it’s quite possible she hasn’t and will have a child or children of her own, struggling at school because of what happens, or doesn’t happen, at home.

One of National’s aims is to lift literacy and numeracy standards. It’s one I fully support but this anecdote shows that education can’t just be left up to schools.

Colin James  sums up the problem:

An underclass is a class without real opportunity. Do children get good nutrition and cognitive development in their earliest years? Those who don’t cannot learn at school and often end up as the enemies of society and economic development. And they pass on their life start to their children.

Key’s challenge is to intervene to give those children a true chance at life, as he had, well parented. Whether he makes a real start on that will define how truly unifying his prime ministership is.

Tackling poor literacy and numeracy would be difficult if all the problems lay in schools, because some of the problems are in society it’s even harder. There’s no doubt John Key and his caucus have the will to tackle it, the challenge is to find a way that works.

5 Responses to Education not just for school

  1. stef says:

    I remember reading a study somewhere that found that age of 1 there was an even distribution of intelligence across society however by the time the kids reach school there were huge gaps in their abilities. My mother (who teaches the littlies) says she can spot the differences between the well-off kids and the ‘underclass.’ The latter will come to school, knowing some words, numerals and how to hold a crayon the former have likely never held a crayon.


  2. homepaddock says:

    Stef – this isn’t just a recent phenomenon. Before our daughter started school in 1990 I asked her teacher what she expected her to know when she got there. She said it would help if she knew which way to hold a book and turn the pages, that the story related to the pictures, knew her colours and could hold a pencil or crayons because a lot of chidlren couldn’t.

    A teacher told me recently that before they can teach maths they have to teach the language associated with it – concepts like on, under, behind, in front of . . . because some five year olds don’t understand them.

    Part of the answer to improving literacy and numeracy starts long before chidlren get to school.


  3. Colin Lucas says:

    My mother who was a teacher made the same comments about her charges when she was teaching as did steffs mother. She could predict quite accurately who would be appearing in the ODT court pages in years to come. While income and “wealth” are an important part of how children learn to read and write so also is the input oand participation of parents in their childrens up-bringing, reading to them etc.
    For that reason my little lads are being read at/to/with every night, whether I like it or not, and they are being introduced to letters numbers and words on a daily basis. The older one has an easel in his room with simple and not so simple words on it. It’s really neat watching him learn.


  4. homepaddock says:

    Colin – It is fun wathicng them learn and it gets better.

    I often give books as gifts to new babies because whether you like it or not (and at the end of a long day when you want them to go to sleep it’s often not) it will pay off when they start school with an advantage and before too long, if they learn to love reading you’ll be able to give them a book and keep them occupied for hours.

    When they’ want to be read to , the trick is to find books you enjoy too, I can still recite our daughter’s favourite from when she was 2 (21 years ago) – it was Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell and starts “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet, they sent me an elephant, it was too bit, I sent it back . . .”

    It’s still in print, so if the little people in your house haven’t already got it, keep an eye out because you’ll all enjoy it.


  5. Colin Lucas says:

    Hi Hp,
    Thanks for that.
    Books are good. Our house is littered with them.
    My smallest boy is not yet capable of choosing what gets read at him so he gets what I like.
    The older one has his favourites which get read to him, and which I happen to enjoy so it cheers me up after a day dealing with other people’s problems it’s all good.


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