Literacy is broadly regarded as the ability to read and write. Writing skills and activities form an important component of literacy. Research indicates that the performance of learners hailing from low-income households is unacceptably low. It is an enormous struggle for many of these learners to do well at school whilst being exposed to the hardships of poverty, including high rates of unemployment, substance abuse in the community, vandalism and illiterate parents. Within these environments, learners may experience physical, emotional and social challenges which have a severe impact on their general wellbeing and performance. These challenges often lead to long-term learning challenges.
Research indicates, for example, that it is often difficult for learners from challenging environments to perform well in literacy. This is so despite the fact that sound literacy skills are regarded as critical skills which form the foundation for learning in all the other school subjects. If literacy is not mastered adequately, it can create endless learning problems for any child. This is especially evident in the case of learners from impoverished households. Compared to their wealthier peers, these learners often struggle with literacy. Many other specific reasons also exist for this situation. These range from a lack of intellectual stimulation at home and the low educational levels of parents to the lack of sufficient physical and human resources. In low-income communities, the lack of collective intellectual capacity in the community also presents a threat. Consequently, the performance of these learners is poor. It is thus generally accepted that this poor performance can partially be ascribed also to the lack of support from parents. Often, parents are confronted with their own low literacy levels and low academic qualifications. Developments in curricula that aim to prepare South African learners for the challenges of the 21st century present an enormous challenge to parents, who appear to be totally lost in supporting their children with schoolwork at home. For learners to complete a packed, modern-day school curriculum presents a daunting challenge to educators and requires that the parents of these learners support them at home. This puts the spotlight on the role of parents in supporting their children at home. This study therefore focused on parents’ supportive role in the writing component of literacy. The study aimed to investigate the ways in which parents in low-income households support their children with writing skills and activities. The study focused specifically on parents of grade 6 learners.
It is general knowledge that parents need to play a critical role in the development and improvement of learners’ literacy skills. Exposure to a wide variety of literacy activities is vital. Reading and writing skills complement each other, where the development of writing skills builds on reading skills. To this end, ample opportunities should be created for the development of reading skills in the context of the home environment. Parents need to play a major role in reading bedtime stories to their children from a young age and exposing them to books from an early age. In addition, they need to ensure that there are enough books in the home and that their children frequently visit the library. With this point needing to be considered, this study was conceptualised within the home literacy environment (HLE), an umbrella term that describes the interaction between parents and their children with regard to literacy support within the home. This study focused predominantly on the writing component. Very little research is available on how parents assist learners at home in writing. It is a skill that experts in the literacy field regard as one of the most difficult literacy skills to be mastered, as is confirmed by the poor performance of learners in literacy assessment tests. The lack of research in this area is concerning and strange, providing the importance of writing skills. Although reading and writing is regarded as equally important, writing can be considered the neglected component in research and even in the classroom. Studies have also shown that language educators often experience great challenges with learners who struggle with writing activities.
A case study design was employed, which was approached within a qualitative research approach. The data were collected through individual interviews with 15 parents from low-income households. This was supplemented by the feedback received from 30 other parents who completed open-ended questionnaires. The study was conducted in a rural town in the Western Cape.
The findings demonstrated that parents from low-income households find it extremely difficult to support their children with writing activities. The data also revealed that these parents have a poor understanding of the writing curriculum. This makes it difficult for them to adequately support their children with homework in general and with writing activities in particular. The findings showed, however, that there are some parents who try their best to support their children. Interestingly, parents with higher scholastic qualifications provide better support than those with lower qualifications, and understandably so.
The value of this article spans a wide field in education, including languages, parental involvement and curriculum studies. Although the study does not necessarily offer specific guidelines as to how parents should support their children with writing activities, it could help educationists and researchers to obtain a better understanding of the problem. This can pave the way for follow-up studies and debates that investigate approaches that can enable parents to support their children in the improvement of their writing abilities. The paper can raise awareness amongst education officials and school management teams of the implementation of strategies that can enhance greater support to parents and learners in this respect. In a scientific way, this article also tries to bring to the fore some other conceptual perspectives regarding an understanding of parental involvement with literacy education. Firstly, it aims to add to the literature on the HLE and what may be needed to improve parental support to children. Secondly, this article is a reminder of the challenges that still exist in impoverished environments and the dire impact these have on learners’ schoolwork. The research showed that urgent intervention programmes are needed to provide support to parents in enabling them to assist their children with writing skills and activities.
Keywords: literacy; low-income households; reading skills; writing skills; writing activities