Digital chinyanja rhymes, stories and phonological awareness in some Lusaka province public preschools: moderation by executive functions.

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Walubita, Gabriel
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The University of Zambia
In this study, the question of whether preschool executive functions (EF) moderated the effect of a rhyme intervention on early phonological awareness (rhyme awareness) achievement has been investigated. Current understanding suggests that executive functions in older children contribute to academic achievement and school readiness. To date, however, there is little empirical evidence among young children in Zambia that support the specific role of executive functions in moderating the effect of an emergent rhyme intervention on rhyme awareness as the earliest emergent component of phonological awareness. Using a between-subjects experimental design (randomised pretest–intervention–posttest), this study explored data from 375 children aged 5 to 6 years from 14 public preschools in three districts (Kafue, Chilanga and Lusaka) in Lusaka Province. The children were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions: intervention (rhymes and stories), or the two active control conditions (action video games or free play). The EF was assessed using direct and indirect EF measures including Pencil Tap, Digit Span, Stroop and Task Orientation while rhyme awareness was tested using the rhyme production, recognition and picture rhyming tests. The first objective was to determine the performance of pre-schoolers on the named EF tests from preschool to Grade One. Second, to ascertain if EF indeed predicted rhyme awareness. The third objective was to identify the type of EF assessment approach (performance-based and/or observer reports) that strongly predicted rhyme awareness. The study found that executive functions improved from the begining of preschool to the beginning of Grade One. On the second objective, a positive relationship between EF and rhyme awareness skills was found while on the third objective, sustained attention as assessed by task orientation, contributed a significant portion of variance in rhyme awareness skills after accounting for letter knowledge, vocabulary, age, parental education and socioeconomic status. The study found that EF consistently moderated the effect of the relationship between rhymes, stories intervention and rhyme awareness skills. The findings of this study suggest that preschool children in public schools with adequate EF skills benefit more from rhyme awareness interventions compared to their peers with limited executive function skills. In addition, the positive relation observed between executive functions and rhyme awareness suggests that cognitive skills facilitate phonological awareness during preschool years. Future research, policy and practical implications of the current study findings are discussed in this report.