Shacks and chores linked to poor reading among Grade 5 kids

21 June 2017 - 10:45 By Dave Chambers
Image: iStock

Children who live in shacks have lower literacy levels‚ an education expert’s research has found.

And Grade 5 pupils who have more chores also perform poorly in literacy tests‚ says Jace Pillay‚ of the University of Johannesburg.

Pillay‚ who holds the education and childhood care research chair‚ said her findings had serious implications when nearly 40% of children live in extreme poverty‚ mostly in informal settlements.

Writing in the South African Journal of Education‚ Pillay said: “There should be a greater concern about children’s academic achievement in South Africa in light of the findings that learners compare most unfavourably with other countries in literacy development.”

Pillay’s team of 15 evaluated the reading skills of 160 pupils — mainly Sesotho speakers — at a Soweto school where the medium of instruction is English.

“The results do not in any way insinuate that poor housing arrangements cause poor literacy performance‚ but certainly note the probability of (their) negative impact‚” she said.

The government had a “major responsibility to support children made vulnerable due to poor housing provisions”.

Said Pillay: “It should allocate financial‚ material and human resources to provide additional literacy support. The government should consider keeping schools open after official school times so that vulnerable children would have access to the library and a place to complete their homework.

“Also‚ community libraries and centres could be made available for the learners after school hours‚ during the weekends and school holidays. Libraries are essential for literacy achievement so there should be easy access to them.”

Pillay added that her findings were not all bad news. “It is imperative to note that many poor children living in high-density suburbs ... develop a number of other literacies that are crucial for their survival.

“It will be good practice to focus on the resilience and agencies of children‚ rather than limiting one’s focus to a deficit model in understanding their literacy development.”