Nature and prevalence of reading difficulties in the third grade : Lusaka rural and urban schools
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The study aimed at investigating the nature and prevalence of reading difficulties in the third grade of Lusaka rural and urban schools. A sample comprising 106 pupils selected from Chongwe, Lusaka Boys, Lusaka Girls and Northmead Basic schools participated in this study. A number of instruments were used to measure requisites and correlates of reading skills. Subtests from the screening instrument known as the Basic Skill Assessment Tool (BASAT) provided most of the individual measures of reading skills. Included among these measures were: the alphabetic principle, phonological awareness, working memory, and reading comprehension. Additionally, the serial rapid naming test comprising objects and numbers was used to assess verbal fluency in children. A spelling test consisting of words was also used to measure the children's spelling and writing skills. A passage story adapted from the grade three readers book was used to measure reading comprehension skills while the Panga Munthu Test (PMT) measured non-verbal cognitive abilities. Results suggest that, only a small proportion of children were able to read at a comfortable grade level. Performance was found to be generally poor with no significant difference between the rural and urban schools. As expected, the subtests related to reading skills were significantly correlated. Digit Span, a test of working memory, correlated with letter recognition (r = .30, p < .01), letter-sound knowledge (r = .22, p < .05), word reading (r = .24, p < .05), and serial rapid naming of numbers (r = .33, p < .01). These results were expected given the association between ability to memorize letters, sounds, and words, and strong working memory skills (Pennington, Van Orden, Kirson, and Haith, 1991; Siegel and Ryan, 1988), as well as fluency and working memory skills (Cutting and Denckla, 2001). The Panga Munthu Test was significantly correlated with sound blending (r = .22, p < .05) and spelling ability (r = .25, p < .05). In this case, there is currently no research evidence to suggest the cause of these correlations, and they are therefore considered spurious. It was originally expected that the Panga Munthu Test being a non-verbal cognitive test would be related with reading ability, but that result was not found in this sample. The following recommendations were made to the Ministry of Education in order to help improve the reading standards in primary schools. a. Considering the large proportion of grade three pupils experiencing difficulties at reading, a deliberate policy should be put in place to include in the school curriculum, assessment of reading skills in the first grade. This type of assessment will essentially serve two purposes; to initially identify pupils who appear to be at risk for difficulty in acquiring reading skills, and to regularly monitor the progress of children receiving reading instructions. b. While acknowledging the rich literacy programmes in schools such as the New Break Through to Literacy (NBTL) at grade one level; Step Into English (SITE) at grade two level; and the Read On Course (ROC) at grade three and subsequent grades, it is also important to realize that even with excellent and intensive instructions in place, some children will fail to make satisfactory progress in reading as documented by the current study. These children will therefore need a different instructional approach that will promote skills (such as alphabetic principle, phonological awareness and fluency) that are known to predict future reading achievement. There is also need to provide these children with an , Individualised Educational Programme (IEP) if they are to make progress in reading hence, the need to reduce the teacher- pupil ratio in class. c. Research has also demonstrated that the process of learning to read is a lengthy one that begins early in the child's life (Torgesen, Wagner and Roshotte, 1994). Based on this, it is highly recommended that children be provided with early childhood educational environments that foster language and literacy development. The Ministry of Education should therefore introduce pre-school classes in basic schools. This will help in reducing the number of children entering school with inadequate literacy skills and above all reducing the magnitude of reading problems that schools are currently facing. d. Teachers play a critical role in promoting reading skills in children. Based on this, it is highly recommended that the New Primary Reading Programme (PRP) be introduced at pre-service teachers training college level in order to equip teachers with necessary knowledge and skills to teach emergent reading skills in children.
SponsorshipThe University of Zambia
- Education