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Early intervention: making school count from day one for every single child

| September 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Philippa Fabbri

Grade R teachers and early childhood development (ECD) practitioners – along with parents – have a significant responsibility to get children ‘ready for school’.

Certain milestones need to be reached and skills consolidated before young students can embark on the next phase of their schooling, which is Grade 1. Some children fly through their preprimary years and simply can’t wait for ‘big school’. They develop and learn those skills with ease, but others don’t. Why?

New NEEDU report

A report titled The State of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Phase1 was released on 2 May 2013. It was researched and compiled by the National Education and Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU), an independent institution that analyses the state of schools in South Africa and identifies the factors necessary for quality schooling. The report concludes that the primary reason for education failure in the foundation phase is that a large proportion of South African teachers can’t teach, and many won’t make the effort required to do so. This is an alarming fact.

The report states, “The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality released a report in 2010 titled SACMEQ III. This report provided the first opportunity to assess the extent of teacher subject knowledge in a systematic way, administering language and maths tests to a national sample of Grade 6 teachers in 2007. The data shows that South African primary school teachers generally exhibit poor subject knowledge in language and mathematics, and consequently an incomplete understanding of both the requirements of the curriculum and how to animate it in their classes.”2

NEEDU report neglects ECD barriers to learning

There are a number of factors that substantiate the findings in this report, including home circumstances, but there is also another very important issue that doesn’t seem to be addressed at all. The fact is that one in every seven children will struggle to learn and may have learning barriers – such as concentration problems, challenges with learning to read and spell, poor handwriting ability, ineffective motor coordination, and the like. It is for this reason therefore, that early intervention is the key that starts to unlock the journey for success in school for a child.

Crucial to err on the side of caution Teachers (and parents) must not play the ‘wait and see’ game. There is no time. If certain developmental delays or unusual behaviours are noticed in the child – such as aggression towards peers, repetitive behaviours, immature speech, unusual toilet habits, etc. – rather err on the side of caution and seek advice. If nothing is done, the cracks just get wider and the gaps are more difficult to fill. If you, as a teacher, are concerned about the development of any child in your class, please consult with the parents, school management team and one of the following necessary professionals:

1. The occupational therapist will:

  • help pupils work on fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop legible handwriting skills
  • address hand-eye coordination to improve pupils’ play and academic skills (hitting a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.)
  • help young learners with severe developmental delays to learn basic tasks (such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth and feeding themselves)
  • help children with behavioural disorders learn angermanagement techniques (i.e. instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger, such as writing about feelings or participating in a physical activity)
  • teach students with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves, use a computer, or increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting
  • evaluate a child’s need for specialised equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices or communication aids
  • work with pupils who have sensory and attention issues to improve focus and social skills.

2. The speech therapist will work with a child one-on-one, in a small group or directly in the classroom to overcome difficulties involved with a specific disorder. They use a variety of strategies, including:

  • Language intervention activities: The therapist will interact with a child by playing and talking, using pictures, books, objects or ongoing events to stimulate language development. The therapist may also model correct pronunciation and use repetition exercises to build speech and language skills.
  • Articulation therapy: Articulation, or sound production exercises, involve having the therapist model correct sounds and syllables for a child, often during play activities. The level of play is ageappropriate and related to the child’s specific needs. The therapist will physically show the child how to make certain sounds, such as the ‘r’ sound, and may demonstrate how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds.
  • Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy: The therapist will use a variety of oral exercises – including facial massage and various tongue, lip and jaw exercises – to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. The therapist also may work with different food textures and temperatures to increase a child’s oral awareness during eating and swallowing.

Focus should be on learning for the very young

The early identification of barriers followed by quality intervention is a child’s right and sets them on a path to ensure that they succeed to the best of their ability. All role players – including teachers, parents, doctors and therapists – need to work collaboratively, communicate regularly and constantly upskill themselves to achieve the goal of quality education. Most government hospitals have occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech therapists on their staff who can also do assessments and provide therapeutic intervention. These state-provided sessions must, however, be regular to have the necessary impact. Often a home-based programme provided by the therapist to the parents can also provide much-needed assistance, if they are available to a particular community, and these should be sought out wherever possible.

A child should not have to wait to fail before they are helped.


1. National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) (2013) ‘The State of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Phase’. Available at: 3D&tabid=874.

2. Ibid.

Category: Spring 2013

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