Original Research

'It’s not just the learner, it's the system!' Teachers’ perspectives on written language difficulties: Implications for speech-language therapy

Indira Navsaria, Michelle Pascoe, Harsha Kathard
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 58, No 2 | a31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v58i2.31 | © 2011 Indira Navsaria, Michelle Pascoe, Harsha Kathard | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 February 2011 | Published: 09 December 2011

About the author(s)

Indira Navsaria, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Michelle Pascoe, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Harsha Kathard, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa


The failure to achieve academic outcomes in linguistically diverse classrooms in poor areas of the Western Cape, South Africa, is well documented. A major contributing factor is the written language communication difficulties experienced in these classrooms. This paper describes the views of intermediate-phase teachers on why written language difficulties are experienced by learners and ways in which these difficulties might be overcome. A series of interviews were conducted with two class teachers in one urban school from which there had been a high number of referrals for speech-language therapy. The teachers were individually interviewed using an in-depth, semi-structured format. Teachers reported that 50 - 70% of learners in their classes were not meeting grade level academic outcomes. They were asked to explain the difficulties experienced with regard to written language, and the challenges and solutions linked to these. The findings suggest that there are barriers and opportunities at the school system, individual learner and home/social community levels. Major challenges identified at the school system level included limited training and lack of support for teachers, poor foundation skills in learners and difficulties with language. The current opportunities for the development of written language were insufficient and teachers identified further opportunities to promote the learners’ written language development. These included training and support for teachers, clear and consistent assessment guidelines, remedial assistance for learners and safe, nurturing home environments. There is a need to look beyond the learner as the site of the problem; a systemic approach is essential. In the light of these findings, suggestions are made for the role of the speech-language therapist.


classrooms, linguistic diversity, speech-language therapists, teachers, Western Cape, written language


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