Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 29 July 2017
24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 29 JULY 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Not quite ready for school DEAN KALIMNIOU "It's quite simple," the kindergarten teacher commented nonchalantly. "Your daughter should repeat kindergarten. She isn't quite ready for school." "Really. On what basis do you make that assessment?" the shocked mother asked. "Well she doesn't relate to other kids and she doesn't follow instructions . . ." "She doesn't speak English. How do you expect her to follow instructions if she doesn't understand what you are saying?" the mother countered. "That's my point. She isn't ready for school," the teacher crowed triumphantly. "What type of language support has my daughter been provided?" the mother continued, undaunted. "Well, we are under-resourced . . ." "Have you undertaken a skills analysis? Are you aware that she is literate in another two languages?" "Yes but for the purpos- es of school next year . . ." the teacher stuttered, flummoxed. "Anyway, I think that maybe the fact she speaks other languages is making her confused. Maybe you should just concentrate on English." "Are you aware of Dr Priscilla Clarke's paper on ‘Supporting Children learning English as a Second Language in the Early Years?’" the mother persisted. "I'm not. . ." "In that paper, Dr Clarke says: ‘Evidence shows that young children can learn more than one language with ease, as long as they are exposed to good language models and have plenty of exposure to both languages. Maintaining the first language does not interfere with the learning of English. Research suggests the opposite – that knowing one language can help the child understand how other languages work. The maintenance of the first or home language is particularly important for the child's development of a positive self-concept and wellbeing. ‘Children who have the opportunity to maintain their first language can extend their cognitive development, while learning English as a second language. Their level of competence in the second language will be related to the level of competence they have achieved in their first language.’ Are you aware of that?" the mother asked, handing the paper to the teacher. "Yes but, for the purposes of school next year. . ." the teacher interjected. "Furthermore," the mother interrupted, turning over the pages of the paper, "Dr Clarke has this to say about knowledge of the English language as a pre-requisite to readiness for school: ‘Some early childhood professionals and parents believe that children who have limited English may not be ready to start school. They feel that the children's level of English will be insufficient to cope with the school environment. While it is an advantage for children to speak some English and be able to communicate their needs and wishes, some children do begin school without having been exposed to English, and schools have programs to support these new learners. ‘For children who have already attended a children's service, the ability to speak English is an important asset that they can use within the school environment. However, children's readiness for school is shown in many ways. For example, children need to demonstrate an awareness of other children around them and be able to relate to others in a social context. Being able to take a risk and talk to a peer or adult even with only a few words in English is an indicator that a child is 'socially' ready for school. Other skills include self-confidence, positive social skills and an interest in learning. In the pre-school years early childhood pro- fessionals work with children to develop their social skills so that they are able to interact with others without much spoken English. It is important to remember that children's comprehension of English always exceeds their ability to speak fluent English and that the ability to communicate is not measured by grammatical competence.’ " "Oh," the teacher gasped. "Does my child demonstrate an awareness of other children around her and is she able to relate to others in a social context?" the mother enquired. "I suppose so." "Does she take risks and talk to peers or adults even with only a few words in English?" the mother continued. "Yes, she is speaking more and more English these past weeks," the teacher admitted. "Does my child display selfconfidence, positive social skills and an interest in learning?" the mother re- joined. "Yes," the teacher respond- ed. "Then can you please tell me in what way you believe my child is not ready for school next year, given that it is July and we have another six months of preschool to go?" the mother concluded. Silence. The above conversation is, unbeknownst to many of us, currently being played out, albeit with small variations, in pre-schools all around Melbourne, with the only difference being that many Greek Australian parents, who choose to bring up their children with Greek as their first language, are usually not aware of leading educator Dr Clarke's research and are generally unable to counter their children's pre-school teachers assertions that their offspring should repeat kindergarten, or that teaching them Greek is harmful, as it retards their acquisition of English.
22 July 2017
5 August 2017