Year 2019
October 2019

Why do many children from low-income families struggle to acquire reading proficiency?

October 28, 2019

Why do many children from low-income families struggle to acquire reading proficiency?

1. Lack of explicit and systematic phonemic instruction

How does a child develop reading proficiency?  By gaining phonemic awareness, and then reading.

Children from low-income families lack the language exposure and are less likely to pick up phonemic awareness without explicit and systematic instruction. Without phonemic awareness, the child has no hope of reading well.1

Preschools in Singapore typically do not help children develop phonological awareness nor teach phonemic awareness.  Many of the English language preschool educators are themselves not familiar with the concept of phonemic awareness.  While there may be lessons in phonics, they are often limited to teaching the letter-sound association without teaching children to work with the sounds.  Often, the children are merely able to identify the sounds, but they are not able to apply the phonics knowledge to decode words.

2. Lack of tiered lessons

Without a sound foundation in phonemic awareness, children from low-income families are at a distinct disadvantage at word recognition.  The challenge to pick up reading skills is further compounded by the fact that in many preschools, these children are not given the chance to start from the absolute basic level; they have to contend with work that is pitched above their abilities.  Typically, preschools do not provide tiered lessons and there is minimal support for children who may not be able to keep up with the pace of the lessons.

GROW addresses this fundamental literacy need in children from low-income families who struggle to acquire reading skills.  GROW focuses on establishing the children’s phonological awareness (where the children are systematically taught phonemic awareness) before introducing actual phonics lessons.  The programme adopts the Response-to-Intervention (RTI) methodology which emphasizes systematic screening, tiered intervention and progress monitoring.

3. Limiting reading to word decoding

Children from low-income families typically lack home support and many of them would not have been read to at home.  Because such children would typically acquire some word recognition at school, their understanding of reading may be limited to word decoding.  They fail to engage with the text that they read as they have not been exposed to such a reading experience.  (Schools, in general, fail to allocate dedicated time for children to be read to.)  The consequence of this failure to engage with the text is the inability to comprehend what is read.  This lack of reading comprehension severely handicaps them in their learning in school.

This is why we do what we do. C3’s reading support programmes are designed specifically to address the literacy needs of such children.

GROW and ENCORE have the potential to make a tremendous difference in the lives of the children from low-income families.