Home literacy environment
The role of environmental factors can be explored by analysing various aspects of the child’s early literacy-related experiences at home. The reading environment in the home for very young children is strongly linked to their emergent literacy skills before entering school. Parents’ attitudes to reading, parents’ reading habits, the number of children’s books in the home, the child’s own interest in books, sharing reading with the child, and how often they read to them are all factors that have been associated with later success in reading. The problem in many African countries is that in addition to parental illiteracy, there is a lack of interesting reading material for children in local languages.
Inadequate educational system
Children benefit from having a literacy-engaged family and an effective school; however, when one is not available, the other can sometimes compensate. From research in developed countries, it is evident that children who begin their formal schooling with a substantial cognitive disadvantage are quite often also from the worst schools. Schools with a high concentration of children from poor backgrounds may be unable to support learning due to a mismatch between need and resources, just as for poor families. Consequently, they are unable to fulfil their social mandate to provide a level playing field in which all children—irrespective of their family circumstances—are given a fair chance to succeed.
Professor Deborah Stipek has argued that obvious differences in school and classroom resources contribute to and magnify poor school achievement. Accordingly, schools may increase rather than decrease the adverse effects of family economic disadvantage for poor children.
Differences in learning of poor children do not arise entirely from inequitable facilities, teaching materials, and books. They may also result from the low quality of instructional interactions and ineffective teaching practices. Better academic outcomes occur in classrooms that are not only rich in learning materials but also have teachers with high expectations of students, warm teacher–student interaction, adequate preparation to teach, and possibilities of in-service training or professional development. Experiences in these classrooms are characterised by opportunities for active engagement with materials—particularly opportunities for practicing reading and writing. It is possible to put many of these things into practice despite the limited resources of a school. In a ‘dyslexia-friendly’ school, everyone (from the principal to the teachers and teaching assistants) is aware of the issues surrounding reading disability.
The quality of teachers’ practice
The quality of learning interaction between the teacher and students together with how well teaching is organised in the classroom both affect children’s motivation to learn and educational attainment. Systematic and well-structured reading instruction and reading interventions improve children’s reading skills and support those who struggle with their reading.
Reading instruction used in the classroom
The systematic reading instruction and teaching methods used by the teacher are very important for children’s reading skills development. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers are aware of the best classroom practices.
Challenges in orthographic structure of the language
Every language has its own orthographic structure that affects learning to read. What differs between languages is the nature of the visual forms and their phonological forms. The mappings that need to be created are at different levels of ‘grain size’ in different languages. In languages with transparent orthography (such as Bantu languages, Italian, and Finnish), there is a regular connection between letters and sounds. We can say that these languages are fine-grained in alphabets that connect letters and sounds. In deep orthographies such as in English these are the least regular and coarse-grained, particularly for spelling. In more irregular languages it takes longer to become a reader because of the complexity of letter–sound connections. In transparent orthographies, children usually learn to decode accurately in quite short practice periods. It is also well recognised that in regular orthographies, reading difficulty tends to focus on the speed of reading instead of decoding in the sense that reading fluency does not automatise (or the child remains as slow reader). (Read more about this topic ‘Learning to read in different orthographies’).