Children’s reading competence crucial for learning science and mathematics, say UJ’s educational experts

​If children struggle to read they are likely to struggle to learn science and mathematics in primary school when they are expected to work from textbooks, work sheets and technology driven devices.

Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Catherine Snow, a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Centre for Education Practice Research at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), discussed the importance of reading competence for learning science and also other school subjects when she delivered a public lecture at the University’s Bunting Road Campus in Auckland Park on Tuesday, 13 February 2018. The lecture was entitled, Improving Literacy by Focusing on Science and Social Studies.

Prof Snow is a member of the research team led by Prof Elizabeth Henning, who holds the South African Research Chair in Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in the Primary School at UJ. The research team develop reading tests in which the vocabulary of science and mathematics will feature. The tests will be in English and will use the terminology of the science and maths school curriculum

Prof Henning pointed out that the research community needs to know much more about how the English language is learned and used as a medium of study in school – specifically from grades 4 to 7.

“The majority of our learners at primary school don’t speak English at home. They go to school and are confronted with new concepts in mathematics and science in the English language, which may be their second or third language. Therefore, for many children, not only the concepts are new, but also the words and the sentence structure of English. The goal is for learners to understand textbooks, worksheets and apps. Children cannot infer meaning from the text if they do not have some basic vocabulary and some sense of word order and typical phrases in the English language,” said Prof Henning.

Prof Snow’s work on how oral language skills are acquired and how they relate to literacy outcomes was central to the public lecture.

Snow Group
​From left to right: Prof Elizabeth Henning, the South African Research Chair in Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in the Primary School (UJ); Prof Saurabh Sinha, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Internationalisation (UJ); Prof Catherine Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Distinguished Visiting Professor, and Prof Sarah Gravett, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education (UJ).
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