Papers from the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology Conferences

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According to the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights, with their emphasis on a culture of civil liberties and the democratic values of liberty, equality and human rights, the country’s education system should be inherently capable of meeting the diverse needs of every child and preventing the breakdown and exclusion of any learner. In reality, however, the South African education system fails to address the literacy needs of many South African children. National literacy surveys suggest that the country is ‘headed for a national education crisis’ (Bloch, 2009:12), because we ‘barely produce literate and numerate children’. Against this disturbing background, we need to gain an understanding of teachers’ practices and the quality of language and literacy input currently being offered in early childhood education in South Africa. While remaining constantly aware of the interplay of various intrinsic and extrinsic factors that affect literacy development, two main objectives guided this research. Firstly, we aimed to investigate the quality of language and literacy stimulation programmes currently being offered at 195 randomly selected urban and rural preschool classes in the Free State province, South Africa (via the administration of the ECERS-R). Secondly, we conducted focus groups with 50 preschool teachers to explore the challenges they experience in creating classroom environments that are responsive to the literacy needs of South African preschoolers. Moreover, we attempted to identify and address the inequalities that still exist with regard to the literacy development of the vast number of South African learners who are still at risk of developing literacy and academic problems and consequently even now experience exclusion daily. Results from the literacy project have already made a significant contribution to the meagre corpus of empirically validated research in the literacy challenges facing South African children. With this article, we intend to stimulate debate on a topic of critical importance to the country’s education system.

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