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Invest in learning, as well as teaching

Invest in learning, as well as teaching

A call for the Government to initiate a cost-benefit analysis of the gains that a simpler English spelling system would bring to learning reading and writing has been made by the Simplified Spelling Society.

The society's New Zealand spokesperson, Allan Campbell, says the Education Minister, Mr Trevor Mallard, in explaining the Budget allocation of $15 million over four years for a "concerted approach to literacy teaching for year 1 to 8 students", notes that a recent report (the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study - PIRLS) shows New Zealand has one of the largest gaps between high achievers and low achievers in literacy learning.

"It is easy to assume the reason for the gap lies in teaching," says Mr Campbell. "If New Zealand was the only developed country having this particular literacy outcome, better teaching here might be the answer. But other English-speakers have it also."

He quotes from the PIRLS report to support his call:

"England is one of the countries with the widest span of attainment. Its most able pupils are the highest scoring in the survey, but its low achieving pupils are ranked much lower. This pattern is a consistent one in English-speaking countries, but continental European countries are more likely to have a similar standing for their high and low achieving children, leading to a narrower range of attainment.

"However, several developed English-speaking countries (New Zealand, England, Scotland and the United States) also tend to have a wide range of achievement. This contrasts with such European countries as Italy, France, Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands, which all have fairly narrow ranges of achievement.

"The reasons for this difference between European countries . . . and English-speaking countries need further exploration. They may derive from educational or social factors. They may also derive from the nature of the languages tested. English has many orthographic [spelling] inconsistencies, and a richness deriving from its many linguistic roots. It is possible that these factors mean it is more difficult for low achieving pupils than more regular languages."

"We keep putting money in the direction of teaching and resources, but the problem remains," said Mr Campbell. "We should stop burying our heads in the sand and take a good look at the inbuilt learning problem our current spelling causes pupils.

"Some of the $15 million could be more profitably spent on funding a cost-benefit analysis on the proposal to update spelling, with a view to taking further action if, as expected, that analysis showed that in the longer term literacy learning would be easier, quicker, and lasting, and that funding it would be cheaper. A Government serious about literacy should be looking at all options."

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