The NZ Herald reported last week that primary school principals are increasingly concerned at the number of children arriving at school struggling to speak in sentences. These are children whose vocabulary and verbal skills are so deficient, they can’t complete a simple sentence at the level normally expected for five year olds.
The issue involves not just schools in poorer areas with high numbers of immigrant families. Native English speaking pupils in high decile schools are also having difficulties. An international education expert recently in New Zealand noted that at a number of the schools he visited principals spoke of a marked decline in the spoken language ability of new entrants.
The Ministry of Education has now launched an investigation. Factors suspected of contributing to the growing problem include busy parents, too much TV watching and over use of technology. These may well play a part, but one has to also wonder about the massive push in recent years to get all children into early childhood “education”.
Since 2007 the amount spent by the Government on early childhood education has nearly doubled from $800 million pa to over $1.5billion annually. The goal is to have 98% of children enrolled and already over 90% attend some form of pre-school care. In spite of this we now have more children arriving at school unable to speak properly. Serious questions need to be asked.
Given that parental interaction is cited as critical in language development we would be better investing those funds in helping more parents to care for their own children at home. A home carers tax-credit combined with wider roll-out of the Parent’s as First Teachers Programme would be a good option.