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New Zealand's Literacy Crisis

The literacy rate in New Zealand has been a subject of national discussion, prompting calls for a mandate by the Ministry of Education on the way Literacy is taught in New Zealand schools. This conversation recently reached a peak with Paddy Gower spotlighting the literacy rates on national television. The episode covered a story that resonates with many New Zealand parents and teachers who are beginning to recognize that the Balanced Literacy approach has not benefitted all of our children.

Many New Zealand schools have yet to catch up with the move to Structured Literacy programmes which involves a more explicit, systematic method of teaching that emphasizes understanding the links between letters and sounds, or phonemic awareness​.

The Dire Need for a Radical Literacy Strategy in New Zealand

The current state of New Zealand literacy education is a topic of ongoing debate, with a growing group of parents, educators, and academics advocating for a shift towards structured literacy. This approach, backed by scientific research into how the brain learns to read, emphasizes explicit, systematic instruction that focuses on the basic rules of how written language works, particularly the links between letters and sounds, known as phonemic awareness.

A majority of New Zealand schools currently follow a "balanced literacy" approach, which uses different methods depending on individual children. Phonics is part of this approach, but it's usually not taught systematically. Instead, children are often encouraged to make sense of texts using all sources of information, especially when identifying an unknown word. This includes using "cues" like sentence context and pictures, potentially only decoding the letters as a last resort.

However, there is a growing recognition that the balanced literacy approach is not working for all learners. About a quarter of all learners, more likely to be Māori and Pasifika, from lower socioeconomic groups, or to have a learning disability, are not benefiting from this approach. This has led to calls for a more explicit, systematic approach to teaching children to read, focusing on phonics and phonemic awareness.

Schools that have adopted a structured literacy approach have reported promising results, seeing improvements in student behaviour and attendance, which it attributes to children finding success for the first time. Other schools are also showing interest in this approach, with about 15% of schools now claiming to use some form of structured literacy.

As for the Ministry of Education, it has launched a five-year strategy to improve New Zealand's literacy statistics. The Ministry has also funded the Better Start Literacy Approach, a new programme that follows science of reading principles and is based on research from the University of Canterbury.

While there is no explicit mandate from the Ministry of Education to move to Structured Learning in New Zealand Schools, the growing evidence supporting this approach, coupled with the promising results from schools that have adopted it, suggests that a shift towards structured literacy may be on the horizon.

The Power of the Science of Reading

Junior Learning's leading edge in the battle against literacy concerns lies in our steadfast commitment to the Science of Reading. This evidence-based, structured approach serves as the cornerstone of our products and resources, catering to the diverse learning needs of New Zealand's young learners.

Early Childhood Education: The Seedbed of Literacy

True to the principles of the Science of Reading, we emphasize the significance of early childhood education. We've developed targeted programmes designed to instill fundamental reading skills during these formative years, fostering an early and lasting love for reading.

Structured Learning: A Systematic Approach to Reading

At the heart of our programmes lies a structured learning approach that breaks down reading into understandable components. This systematic and explicit method empowers learners to grasp the complex connections between sounds, letters, and words, ultimately aiding the reading comprehension process.

Championing Literacy Together

With the nation's literacy rate at the forefront of the national discourse, we at Junior Learning invite educators, parents, and stakeholders to collaborate in our mission to revolutionize literacy education in New Zealand. By adhering to the Science of Reading, we aim to unlock every child's reading potential, one letter at a time. Together, we can turn the spotlight on New Zealand's literacy rate into a shining beacon of progress and promise for future generations.


Learn more about the Science of Reading with Junior Learning.




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