Western literacy tests don’t always apply to second language French schooling in Cote d’Ivoire
In this study, unlike in similar western studies, researchers found no relationship between children’s performance in visual learning tests and their French learning skills. This means that what other language researchers observed in western countries can likely not be generalised to poorer communities in developing countries.
In schools, children might be taught in a language that they don’t speak at home. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, children in primary schools are taught in their second language French, but most of them speak a different first language at home.
Researchers said when children speak 2 or more languages, the listening, reading, speaking or writing skills they learn from their first (home) language are later on transferred to their second language.
In western countries, where children often learn in the same language that they speak at home, their performance in visual learning tests can be linked to how literate they are. In visual learning tests, researchers use pictures or shapes to assess students.
However, literacy researchers are not sure whether this link between visual tests and literacy found in a western culture or context applies where children know two or more languages and are in low-resource settings.
To see if there is a link, researchers looked at the relationship between children’s performance in visual learning tests and their French learning skill in Cote d'Ivoire, where primary school children are taught in French as their second language.
The researchers tested Grade 5 children in rural Cote d’Ivoire, aged 10 to 15. They gave the children visual learning tests to complete on touchscreen tablets. The children also did French literacy tests.
The researchers did verbal interviews with the children using printed materials. They also took note of how much time the children took to complete the tests.
The researchers found that the children had limited exposure to technology, and their performance differed. Their results showed that children had shorter response times than what the researchers had expected.
They said children who responded fast also showed better French learning skills. The researchers reported that differences in response speed, and not language learning skills as such, predicted the children’s literacy skills.
They also said it was not clear whether visual learning tests were reliably measuring the children’s individual differences in learning.
In general, the researchers said their findings did not fully answer the question of whether the literacy skills and visual learning tests relationships observed in western countries also applied to children learning to read in a second language and in low-income rural areas.
Their results showed that research on learning abilities should be done in local communities and cannot be generalised across countries.
They recommended that large studies across different cultures should be done.
The researchers also said they used tablets, instead of desktop computers, and this, together with poor internet, might have affected picture qualities during visual learning tests, and hence their results.
Children around the world learn to read across radically different educational systems and communities. In the west African nation of Côte d’Ivoire, children enter the fifth grade (CM-1) with widely varying literacy skills in French, the official language for primary education. Previous studies have often linked performance in non-linguistic statistical learning tasks with differences in children’s and adults’ literacy outcomes, mainly in Western and high-income educational contexts. We asked whether Ivorian children’s individual differences in emergent second language literacy skills and analogous first language skills could also be explained by their performance in non-linguistic visual statistical learning (VSL). Across three iteratively-developed experiments, 157 children in rural communities in the greater-Adzópe region of Côte d’Ivoire completed a VSL task on touchscreen tablets. We found strong group-level evidence that children exploited the statistical regularities in the image sequence to decrease their response times, but post-test discrimination between valid and invalid sequences generally did not exceed chance. Individual differences in baseline response speed both confounded statistical learning and predicted second language emergent literacy skills. These patterns, coupled with a weak correlation to analogous skills in their first language, suggests that the VSL task did not measure the same skills for the Ivorian children as reported in previous samples. These findings echo recent calls for greater internal reliability and cautions against confounding variables in studies of individual differences in statistical learning.
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