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'Attack The Causes, Not The Symptoms'

August 29 2002

'Attack The Causes, Not The Symptoms'

The Simplified Spelling Society, thru its New Zealand spokesperson, Allan Campbell, has accused both the Minister of Education, Hon Trevor Mallard, and his Act critic, Donna Awatere Huata, of not accepting the most obvious simple way to deal with the disparity between the high and low scores of Kiwis revealed in the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) literacy survey results, a disparity they both bemoan.

They should be looking at attacking causes, rather than symptoms.

"There are many causes. A major one is the difficulty of the written language," he says. "A subject easier to learn is easier to teach, or can be taught sooner. English spelling, the least updated in any European language, causes, and will continue to cause, difficulties for those young learners not blessed with good visual memory skills. Make it logical and easier, and they have a greater chance of mastering reading in one year, like Italian children, rather than the three or four now."

"In English there is a lot of time and energy wasted in arguing the merits of fonics and whole language teaching methods. In languages with systematic spelling, fonics is the obvious method. Because of its spelling irregularities, English is not wholly amenable to teaching by fonics. Hence the emergence of the whole language method."

The society gives credit to literacy teachers who do manage to instill high literacy skills in their more able students. The European language comparison survey reported last year showed that English-speaking nine-year-old children (above average in ability) took up to two years longer to attain proficiency in literacy than did their counterparts in 14 other languages. This slow start is not mentioned by the Minister, but leads to plaudits from the society.

"That by the age of 15 most New Zealand children have overcome this handicap shows great ability on the part of teachers and others. But wouldn't it be better if they didn't have to use this time in catch-up work, and were able to use it to teach other subjects?" Mr Campbell asks.

"We need to be working towards updating our awkward spelling. We ignore the problems it has on our literacy at our peril."


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