ZB

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Why do we bother with reinventing the wheel sometimes?

Author
Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Publish Date
Thu, 30 Jun 2022, 7:02pm
(Photo / RNZ)
(Photo / RNZ)

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Why do we bother with reinventing the wheel sometimes?

Author
Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Publish Date
Thu, 30 Jun 2022, 7:02pm

I don’t know why we try to reinvent the wheel sometimes.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that we made a huge mistake 50 years ago changing the way we teach kids to read when we stopped teaching phonics.

There’s a great article in the Herald today written by Megan Wood. She is a journalist and she’s also a mum.

She tells the story of her almost 9-year-old son. He can’t read. He’s a really clever kid so everyone assumed he’d be great at school and would thrive but he got there and he never learned to read.

Megan is now paying $120 a week to get him a tutor to teach with phonics.

If this was 1969 she wouldn’t have to pay for that because he would just have learnt it in school.

Back in 1969, kids still learnt to read through phonics. That’s where the kids learn by sounding the word out. And it was working. New Zealand 14-year-olds were placed 1st-equal out of 15 countries in reading comprehension.

But then we ditched phonics in 1970 to teach kids by word association with pictures. So as Megan says, a word starting with s next to a picture of a snake so the kid guesses the word is snake. 

That’s not learning to read, that’s learning to look at pictures.

Our literacy rates have been dropping ever since. Our 9-year-olds are 15th out of 18 five years ago.

It’s been a failure. We should never have abandoned phonics. We should now go back to it. We have a chance. NSW has gone back to phonics. Our Ministry of Education is reviewing its literacy curriculum and it has already rolled out 2.4 million copies of new phonics-based reading material.

But it does beg the question: Why are we so keen on reinventing the wheel and changing things that work?  There’s a lot of that at the moment - people wanting to toss out a good idea just because they have a new idea.

There’s a reason we do things the way we do: because they work.

Phonics is a case in point.