Differential effects of child-characteristics on early literacy and numeracy skill-attainment at selected low and high performing Schools in the Northern Province of Zambia
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The main purpose of this study was to the identify differential effects of child-characteristics on early literacy and numeracy skill-attainment (in the first grade) at selected low and high-performing schools in the Northern province of Zambia. The study sought to establish the interplay and influence of child-characteristics and environmental factors in the context of school quality on literacy and numeracy skills. A total of 100 children drawn from five low and five high performing schools constituted the sample. These children were subjected to individual tests to assess their skills in reading, writing and mathematics tasks. Seven instruments (biographical sheet, family literacy questionnaire, Behaviour Rating Inventory for Executive Function (BRIEF), Electrocardiography(ECG) measure, Basic Assessment Skill Assessment Tool (BASAT), Mathematics Assessment Battery and the DLE mathematics were used. Based on the research evidence on differential susceptibility, the researcher hypothesised low literacy and numeracy attainment levels among children with high stress reactivity in schools with poor didactics, and high literacy and numeracy attainment levels among children with low stress level reactivity in schools with poor didactics. It was further hypothesised that low SES and deprived home environments elevated levels of stress reactivity whereas high SES suppressed stress reactivity as the influence of biological sensitivity is dependent on either the positive or negative settings.Background variables comprising child-characteristics, home and school factors helped to predict reading, writing and numeracy skills. Children’s parents responded to questionnaires to give information about home literacy circumstances and teachers gave information about each child’s behaviour as observed in class. Specifically, school quality was a strong predictor of reading and writing, but not of mathematics skills. Surprisingly, pre-school, home literacy and home learning support were not strong predictors of literacy and numeracy skills, except for alphabet knowledge. Children’s performance in literacy and numeracy skills was generally low compared to what other studies have found regarding the predictive role of variables such as executive functions. Though RSA (stress) reactivity was not a strong predictor, positive associations were noted with pre-school, phonemic awareness, reading and writing as well as mathematics number-facts. On the other hand, RSA (stress) reactivity negatively correlated with mathematics number-sense. From the study, it very clear that phonemic awareness came out as most problematic variable as it could not significantly be predicted by any background variable. This suggests serious challenges as far as the teaching of literacy is concerned. Since research strongly points to phonemic awareness as one of the strong predictors of early literacy, this research has just also revealed that some of the poor reading levels being experienced in some schools are more closely connected to the neglect of applying phonemic awareness skills in schools. Teachers who participated in the study seemed not to have adequate knowledge and methods of teaching phonemic awareness skills to young learners. Low and high performing schools had different strengths and weaknesses in terms of their influence on children’s literacy and numeracy performance. For example, high performing schools performed better on reading and writing and mathematics number-sense, while low performing schools performed better on mathematics number-facts. Furthermore, there were marked differences with child characteristics and home factors and how they also influenced outcome variables. Based on the findings of the study, it is highly recommended that early literacy and numeracy skills attainment is given equal attention in terms of research and innovation in order to improve the quality of service delivery in colleges of education and later to young learners in primary schools. Furthermore, consented collaborative efforts need to be coordinated by the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education in order to maximise learning opportunities at school and at home. Therefore, parental involvement in the education of their children should be emphasised by the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education (MESVTEE) so that parents’ and teachers’ in-put benefit children’s academic needs for the best development of early literacy and numeracy skills.
- Education