Traditionally, the Western world has focused on phonics with respect to the literacy of primary school children. With the introduction of the Internet, there has been a relatively recent shift from the focus on phonics, to the traditional Eastern focus on concepts. Whether this is for the better or not, remains a question that no one has an answer for, at least not at this time.
What is phonics as opposed to literacy? In order to comprehend why primary school children need phonics and literacy, it is important to understand them individually.
Literacy is “the condition or quality of being literate, especially the ability to read and write” or “the condition or quality of being knowledgeable in a particular subject or field.”
The freedictionary.com suggests that the use of phonics or phonetics is “a method of teaching elementary reading and spelling based on the phonetic interpretation of ordinary spelling.”
Globally, literacy enables effective communication, but it is not a question of either phonics or concepts with respect to literacy. Developing communication skills on both levels is vital for primary school children, many who have learned basic phonics before they start school. Those who have not can be at a distinct disadvantage.
Focusing primarily on phonics in primary school education appears to be outmoded, with the global shift towards concepts. This is partly because of language barriers and the difficulty in reading and writing that children of primary school age, or younger may encounter. Conceptual learning is not new or different in the educational system, as education has always included concepts in the learning process. There will always be concepts, as well words. Whether or not concepts will become the primary focus of learning or whether they even should be, becomes debatable.
With the Internet used globally for teaching primary school children, there is less of a focus on phonics and an increasing focus on conceptual learning. With the advent of smart phone communication, basic rules of phonics and grammar are being by-passed in favor of a focus on sounds. In other words, there is no longer an emphasis on correct spelling or grammar. Numbers and words can be interchangeable.
Should learning on the primary school level be just one and not the other?
No, words explain concepts and concepts are essential in the understanding of words. Not developing appropriate reading, writing and arithmetic skills, previously the focus of primary school education, may place many primary school children at a distinct disadvantage. It can prove to be an advantage to others as every child has a different learning curve. Not having to focus on phonics and literacy may mean less pressure on all children, during an active period in their lives when they are instinctively curious about everything. When a child is able to learn phonics, it may prove advantageous to some degree as a more natural progression of learning. In the meantime, maintaining a healthy balance of phonics and concepts is vital in the learning of primary school children.