Anne Glennie in the Learning Zoo responds to Teaching Scotland`s article about the campaign by Upstart Scotland to introduce a Nordic-style kindergarten system in Scotland.
"In the search for a solution to our problems, it is natural to consider the countries which top the PISA tables – and to try and ‘have a bit of what they’re having’. However, when it concerns literacy and the attainment gap, we would do well to be wary of hastily drawn conclusions. Sue Palmer cites countries such as Finland, Switzerland and Estonia, attributing their success to the fact that ‘formal’ learning in these countries does not start until age 7."
"This assumption, the backbone of the Upstart campaign, is entirely erroneous. There is a much simpler, more basic, reason that explains why these countries are at the top of their game when it comes to reading and literacy: their languages have transparent orthographies. Or, to put it another way: Finnish, German and Estonian (a Uralic language related to Finnish) are all easy languages to learn. The written code of these languages is simple and, in the case of Finnish, one letter equals one sound."
"Many children in Finland come to school already able to read – and if they can’t – teaching them is the small matter of a term’s work. Interestingly, Denmark doesn’t get a mention from Sue Palmer, although children there also start school at 7 – but it is perhaps not wise to advertise their literacy struggles. Despite a two year ‘advantage’ in a kindergarten stage, Danish children have similar difficulties in acquiring the alphabetic principles of their language, although not quite as extreme as in English. Furthermore, research shows that ‘foundation literacy acquisition by non-English European groups is not affected by gender and is largely independent of variations in the ages at which children start formal schooling’ (Seymour/Aro/Erskine)."
"English, on the other hand, has a deep orthography which gives rise to various complexities; not least of which is the fact that we have 44+ phonemes (sounds) in English and only 26 letters of the alphabet to represent them with. This, coupled with direct borrowing from other languages, means that we have a huge number of spelling alternatives, making English the most difficult alphabetic language to learn, and teach, in the world. Indeed, it takes at least three years of teaching, learning and practice to master the basics of reading, writing and spelling. This complexity is also the reason that we have so many children that struggle – because English is hard. But, crucially, success in reading for all is possible. There are already many schools in England that have not only closed the gender gap, but that have successfully closed the attainment gap too – even where the majority of their children are disadvantaged or have English as a second language."
Read more http://www.thelearningzoo.co.uk/2016/09/18/why-upstart-is-a-nonstarter/