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Preschool Education: Preparing
Children for the Three R's

Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic are crucial elements in the education of any child. A child's ability to later cope in the adult world, to have a career, to take charge of his financial affairs and to live independently depends to a large extent on his mastery of these skills. Since the preschool phase is the foundational phase, the quality of a child's preschool education will, to a large extent, determine his success in mastering the three R's in school, and his success in later coping in the adult world.

Unfortunately many children are deprived of the privilege of an abundant adult life. The media reports in this country often focus on the high illiteracy rates that plague our nation's schools. They are alarming since they indicate that many of our children are failing to learn to read. In a national study in 1998, the National Assessment Governing Board tested students nationwide and rated their reading abilities at four levels: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Thirty-eight percent of fourth grade students were rated Below Basic. In the same study, only 31% of students were at or above the acceptable level of Proficient. Considering that 11% of students were untestable due to learning disabilities or language barriers, it implies that approximately 44% of fourth grade students are illiterate and only 25% are reading at an acceptable level!*

These sobering results also held true in a 1992 study of 26,000 adults by the same group (NAEP 1992). Participants were rated on a scale of five levels, and results showed that 48% of the adults were reading at Level 2 or lower, i.e. they were barely literate. Only three percent of all adults reached the highest level, Level 5.*

Surely this is unacceptable. Imagine doing a survey on the building industry and finding that the walls of nearly half of the houses are so weak that they collapse. Wouldn't we immediately start an investigation into the building practices of the builders? Wouldn't we check whether they were careful to provide proper foundations?

Before building a house, one needs to lay a foundation. Unless there is a strong and solid foundation, cracks will soon appear in the walls, and with no foundations, the walls will collapse.

In the same way one needs to lay a proper foundation before it becomes possible for a child to benefit from a course in reading, writing and arithmetic. If this foundation is shaky, learning "cracks" will soon appear.

The First Rung of the Learning Ladder

It is important to note that learning is a stratified process, in which one skill has to be acquired first, before it becomes possible to acquire subsequent skills. It is like climbing a ladder. If you miss one of the rungs you fall off.

Leerprobleme is aan die toeneem, dit is tyd om 'n einde daaraan te maak… Unless one has first learned to speak Afrikaans, there is no way that one would be able to read the above Afrikaans sentence. This shows that language is at the very bottom of the learning ladder. Its role in the acquisition of the three R's can be compared to the role of running in the game of football. One cannot play football if one cannot run. One cannot read a book in a language — and least of all write — unless one knows the particular language.

If a child's knowledge of English is poor, then his reading will also be poor. Evidence that links reading problems and language problems has been extensively presented in the literature.

The Second Rung of the Learning Ladder

While language comprises the first rung of the learning ladder, non-verbal skills comprise the second. These are functions that should be taught at preschool level to form the foundation of good reading, writing and arithmetic. The most important skills are:

  • Concentration.
  • Perception – visual, auditory and haptic.
  • The ability to discriminate, synthesize and analyze in terms of foreground/background, form, size, position in space and color.
  • Memory – short and long term, visual and auditory.
  • Ability to decode and integrate information.
  • Concept of numbers.
  • Fine motor coordination.

Audiblox develops and reinforces the above-mentioned skills.

Only when a child has climbed the first and second rung, will he be prepared for the third rung, i.e. the three R's.

Comparing Children Exposed to Audiblox to a National Norm

Presently, a large number of preschools in South Africa are making use of the group application of the Audiblox program. Their main intention is to prepare children for formal schooling, thereby preventing learning difficulties in the future.

In November 2001 the Grade 0 (Kindergarten) children of three of these preschools were tested on the abbreviated battery of the Aptitude Test for School Beginners (ASB). The abbreviated battery correlates strongly with the total score of the complete battery. The children at the three preschools (a total of 56 children) had been exposed to Audiblox sessions for 20 minutes per day, two to four times per week, the majority of them for longer than a year.

The ASB is considered as the most important criterion to determine a child's level of school readiness. It has been in use for many decades in South Africa and is widely applied in Grade 1, between the beginning of the eighth week and the end of the ninth week of the first school term, as the norms had been determined for this period. The battery was therefore applied four months earlier than usual.

The ASB test has two norms, one for children who are environmentally disadvantaged and one for children who are non-environmentally disadvantaged (NED). NED children are considered to have been exposed to sufficient learning opportunities. The children at the three preschools will therefore be compared to the NED norm table.

According to the NED norm table 7% of non-environmentally disadvantaged children in South Africa score a stave of 1 (very weak), 24% score a stave of 2 (weak), 38% scored a stave of 3 (average), 24% score a stave of 4 (good), and 7% score a stave of 5 (good):

StavesPercentage of testeesGrading
1Lowest 7%Very weak
2Next 24%Weak
3Middle 38%Average
4Next 24%Good
5Highest 7%Very good

Below is a graphic representation of the results obtained by each of the three preschools. To interpret the graph, they should be compared to the black line that indicates the normal distribution. For example, of the children in Preschool 1,

  0% scored a stave of 1 (very weak) compared to 7% of NED children;
  0% scored a stave of 2 (weak) compared to 24% of NED children;
32% scored a stave of 3 (average) compared to 38% of NED children;
53% scored a stave of 4 (good) compared to 24% of NED children; and
16% scored a stave of 5 (very good) compared to 7% of NED children.

* Source:

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