Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Home literacy environment

One of the most interesting things to observe in the coming decades in Burkina Faso is how a home literacy environment might emerge. Burkina Faso currently has very low levels of adult literacy (less than 25% in rural villages) and so most children in villages grow up with limited literacy environments in the home. But with African countries moving like jackrabbits chased by hunting dogs towards Universal Primary Education, in a generation the literacy (nominal literacy, let's be honest) of parents will start approaching 100%. Will these parents create rich literacy environments for their children? Or will they encourage them to play digital games on their soon-to-be ubiquitous cell phones?

The research on the importance of home literacy environment is very interesting- Young-Suk Kim a researchers at Florida State University & Florida Center for Reading Research who was at the CIES conference has an interesting paper on South Korean home literacy practices and their effects on subsequent literacy skills. She concludes:
The study revealed two dimensions of home literacy practices, home reading and parent teaching. Frequent reading at home was positively associated with children’s emergent literacy skills as well as conventional literacy skills in Korean. However, children whose parents reported more frequent teaching tended to have low scores in their phonological awareness, vocabulary, word reading and pseudoword reading after accounting for home reading. These results suggest a bidirectional relationship between home literacy practices, parent teaching in particular, and children’s literacy skills such that parents adjust their teaching in response to their child’s literacy acquisition.
My reading of the literature is that this kind of finding is typical. How children learn to read is very complex, and it is difficult to disentangle all the casual factors because so much is happening in the interactions among learners, peers, educators, and parents. I've never seen a study like this done in African villages. One of the immediate problems, though, is that in villages like those of Burkina Faso children grow up learning a local language, and then in school transition to French, which they may have never spoken at home, and will not know many of the phonemes, and certainly none of the vocabulary. So what kind of home literacy environment is possible right now? Do we have to wait a generation?

One last quick reflection: the home literacy environment might indeed displace a home tam-tam environment.... one of Burkina Faso's foremost thinkers, Maitre Pacere Titinga, is the founder of a concept he calls bendrologie, the study of the sounds and meaning of the tam-tam the small hand drums used by the griots in Burkina Faso. Will children in rich home literacy environments not learn to hear the tam-tam? Or, something that wouldn't surprise me, would they turn out to be just like Maitre Pacere, masters of both!?

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