In early 2019, DAS had the opportunity to present at ARWA’s (Association for Reading and Writing in Asia) 3rd Annual Conference in the beautiful, Portuguese-influenced, beach city of Goa, India. The conference was held at the prestigious BITS (Birla Institute of Technology and Science) Pilani campus from 28th February to 1st March 2019. The theme of the conference revolved around multilingualism and language acquisition in learners living in multilingual societies. The majority of the audience was made up of very prolific researchers from well-reputed universities in Finland, Canada, UK, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, USA and Singapore – as such, the conference was heavily research-oriented.
Day one of the conference commenced with a compelling keynote presentation by Ms Pooja Reddy Nakamura – a senior researcher from the American Institutes for Research. In her presentation, she eloquently highlighted the global learning crisis of low reading abilities among multilingual learners, despite having access to formal institutes for education (schools) that had arisen from her research in literacy development in multilingual contexts of the developing world. She also asserted that learning a language often goes beyond attending school – students should have regular exposure to the language outside of it in order to be able to read well. When applied in the Singaporean context, the following needs to be taken into consideration:
- Children typically start attending nursery from the age of 3; for students who are from non-English speaking families, this will be their first exposure to the English language – Is this sufficient?
- What happens if the student has a learning difference, is this age too late for them to gain exposure to English?
The speaker also mentioned that there is a gap in research with regards to the ‘ideal age’ for intervention to start for students. This talk was then followed up with a series of sessions under the topics of assessments design, technology in education, bridging the gap between education and research and executive functioning.
Day two of the conference was just as eventful as the first and opened with a fascinating keynote presentation by Dr Julie Washington on the impact of dialects on reading acquisition in children growing up in poverty. Her presentation highlighted the obvious presence of an ‘opportunity gap’ between children from low-income households and their peers. This opportunity gap was key in slowing down the language acquisition in children from low-income groups causing them to eventually be stuck in the vicious cycle that their parents were in. These findings ring quite true in the Singaporean context, where the opportunity gap not only allows children from affluent families to get a headstart but also enables them to access resources (eg. tuition/enrichment centres) to stay ahead of their not-so-fortunate peers. As Educators, it then becomes our moral duty, to help fill up this gap, i.e. provide the lesser privileged children with as many opportunities as possible to bridge the gap and empower them to break out of the vicious cycle. This talk was then followed up with a series of sessions under the topics of cross-linguistic studies, reading comprehension, learning mechanisms, curriculum and instruction (general), Interventions for struggling readers and orthographic awareness and processing.
Brief Summary of our Experience
- The conference gave us a different perspective on the global impact of literacy acquisition
- The bulk of the participants at the conference were researchers, and as such, the conference was rather research-intensive
- It would also be good if they could include a wider variety of topics/sessions (eg. practical research) so as to cater to practitioners like us
- All in all, the two-day was chock full with extensive knowledge backed up by sound research.
About the authors
Sujatha Nair, Assistant Director (Educational Advisory), English Language and Literacy Division
Sridhar Pratyusha, Educational Advisor, Senior Educational Therapist
Sharyfah Nur Fitrya, Educational Advisor