Prepare for Life: Language Education Is More Than Learning the Alphabet (Germany)

The International Expert Conference of early childhood language and reading skills want to work on a recommendation catalogue.

More than 130 participants from 35 different countries discussed cultural, social and political parameters for up-to-date early childhood language and reading skills at the international expert conference ‘Prepare for Life! Raising awareness for Early Literacy Education’ in Leipzig from 12-14 March. The International Expert Conference was organised by Stiftung Lesen and sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The experts expressed that early language and reading abilities is a basic prerequisite for the educational skills of the single child and, on top of that, is also the basis for a successful, cultural, but above all, economic development in all countries, experts say. According to Prof. Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Educational Science at the University of Michigan, USA, early language and reading capabilities are more than just learning the alphabet: it has been revealed with 3-year-olds that there are large differences in vocabulary which correlate with the prevailing household income.

Prof. Eric A. Hanushek, expert of Education Economics at Stanford University, USA, added that especially early childhood special programmes have significant consequences on socially disadvantaged people and that is why they are to be regarded as a proven method for equal opportunities. The investment in early language and reading competence, especially with the socially weak stratum of society, not only had positive effects on the personal development of each single person, but also for the entire society.

Agreement existed amongst the experts as follows: a successful early childhood education in language and reading skills can only function with an integration of all the social powers. ‘It is compellingly necessary to pay more attention to the early childhood language and reading development, for it is the basis for educable skills. Above all, we have to include the families of the children,’ commented Dr. Jörg F. Maas, Managing Director of Stiftung Lesen. ‘They are the nucleus and the central location for early childhood education. Parents and families will therefore have to be strengthened and qualified unconditionally.’

What is needed, as seen by the attending experts, is not only an integral educational starting point in early childhood competence which take into account, in particular, social and cultural factors, but also the combination of all actors on the political, institutional and private scene.

Among others, the following experts spoke at the International Expert Conference :
• Prof. Eve V. Clark, Professor of Linguistics, Stanford University
• Prof. Eric A. Hanushek, Professor of Economics, Stanford University
• Prof. Christoph J. Lonigan, Professor of Psychology, Floria State University
• Prof. Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Educational Science, University of Michigan
• Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolf Singer, Professor of Neurophysics, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt/Main
• Prof. Dr. Renate Zimmer, Professor of Educational Science, University of Osnabrueck