The social context of literacy acquisition: achieving good beginnings
University of Sydney
My exploration of what is needed to give all of Australia’s children a good start to their education has taken me to the springs of social disadvantage, a life condition affecting the individuals, families and communities with whom I have worked throughout my ﬁve decades of social-work practice. My conclusion is that, in the absence of compensatory educational experiences and appropriate forms of social support, a substantial number of today’s socially disadvantaged small children are positioned to become tomorrow’s frustrated and rejected adults. I want to begin by recalling some scenes that I have encountered during my recent observations of 20 of New South Wales’ pre-schools attached to public schools and/or kindergartens in public schools. The study was conducted in 2005–2006, and the ﬁndings were reported to a body called the Public Education Alliance at a conference staged at State Parliament House, Sydney, and received wide media coverage. I must emphasise that, by design, the majority of the schools in my sample were located in not-well-off communities in the Australian state of New South Wales, and in some instances they served decidedly disadvantaged neighbourhoods, including some Aboriginal ones. The scenes that I recount are fundamental reality tests for measures intended to provide all of our children with good beginnings to their education. Moreover, though they are drawn from Australian observation, they are relevant for all other societies where young children experience social disadvantage.