A critical realist approach to literacy acquisition and development, with specific application to teacher traning and support in primary education in KwaZulu-Natal
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In adopting a critical realist approach, this study offers a view of the complex social and contextual factors impacting on literacy acquisition and development in primary education, which is thought to be its main contribution to the field. The study‟s focus was on reading because reading is a fundamental part of literacy acquisition and development in primary education. Its purpose was to establish the state of current literacy teaching and learning practices in formal education so that, ultimately, recommendations could be made for teacher training and support. In the changing face of education in post-apartheid South Africa, provision has been made by the government to democratise education, and, in particular allow all students equity of access to key competences such as literacy. However, there are signs that all is not well at the level of implementation, for example, the low learner pass rate. In particular, teachers do not appear to be coping with the new dispensation, and are generally demoralised and demotivated. It must be stressed that the issue of literacy acquisition and development is complex and multi-layered, and not just a simple question of applying linguistic knowledge or skills. While literacy is a key competence for schooling and a key life skill, education is an essential variable in literacy acquisition and development. However, there are indications that the South African educational system is failing to deliver quality education to its learners. It has been estimated that illiteracy is costing the government as much as R550 billion a year. The fact remains that the main responsibility for teaching literacy rests with schools. Currently there is a literacy crisis in South Africa. This means that large numbers of children are not acquiring the high level skills in reading and writing that will enable them to take part in the new knowledge economy. The general aim of this project was to investigate the process of literacy acquisition and development in primary schools. The investigation focused specifically on how learners acquire literacy, and the involvement of teaching training and support for educators. It was anticipated that the investigation would identify gaps in the acquisition and development of literacy, as well as iii provide recommendations for teacher training and support: the findings might then feed specialist knowledge on the current state of literacy acquisition in formal education into the area of teacher training as to address the problem of lack of preparedness of teachers to deal with literacy acquisition. The project involved an investigation of literacy teaching and learning practices in three different types of public school in the Ethekwini Region, comprising ex-Model C, semi-urban and rural schools. The scope of the study was confined to three primary schools in KwaZulu Natal. The selected research sites were Joel1 Primary School (urban) in the Pinetown area, Milo Primary School The semiurban) in the Mariannhill area, and John Primary School (rural) in the Ndwedwe District. No attempt was made to generalise on the acquisition of language and development, and the provision of teacher training and support at these selected primary schools with reference to schools in the rest of South Africa. However, it is thought that the findings might well be relevant to some schools to enable them to cope and understand the role and function of language acquisition and development. The social factors which negatively impact on literacy acquisition and development were found to include features of the local social context, security for literacy resources and other physical challenges. Factors impacting negatively on teacher performance were inadequate teacher training, the impact of teacher unions, and the effects of poverty and HIV/AIDS. Some of the clearly intertwined challenges experienced at the Intermediate Phase education level include the problems of insufficient teaching staff numbers and insufficient numbers of competent and trained staff; lack of sufficient support for African language learners; large class sizes; lack of resources; and lack of quality leadership in schools. These challenges are the shaky ground upon which we build education for some of our learners, especially those in rural and poor areas.