National Research Council of Italy, Institute for Educational Technology (CNR-ITD) (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN20 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 1479-1487
ISBN: 978-84-09-17979-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2020.0482
Conference name: 12th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-7 July, 2020
Location: Online Conference
In recent years, the relationship between early literacy and math and cognitive abilities has emerged as an area of increasingly significant investigation. Accordingly, numerous interventions have been proposed with the purpose of preventing possible future difficulties in this area. In this regard, Executive Functions (EFs) and Working Memory (WM) seem to play an important role in the development of early literacy and math abilities.

In particular, it should be recognized that school readiness and early school achievements seem to be negatively influenced by low Socioeconomic Status (SES). Some studies have highlighted that children who experience poverty conditions in preschool age subsequently attain low school achievements and perform poorly in WM and EFs tasks in school age.

In a context of low SES, the situation is even more critical for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), who require exceptional educational and teaching strategies to overcome their personal difficulties. Some cognitive processes, including EFs and WM, are frequently impaired in children with SEN. As a consequence, learning abilities are also compromised. However, given the predictive role of EFs and WM on academic achievement, specific training devoted to these factors could be useful for improving academic skills and school attendance, as well as quality of life and social functioning. For this reason, in the current study we investigate the relationships between early literacy and math and their cognitive underpinnings, EFs and WM in a sample of 72 five-year-olds (49.3% female), attending the last year of kindergarten in a low SES context. The cohort included 67 typically developing children and five pupils certified with SEN: one with language impairment, two with cognitive impairment and two with neuro-motor disabilities. A battery of EFs and WM measures was individually administered to the children. In addition, two school readiness measures were included: the teachers filled out the IPDA observational questionnaire, and we considered Early Literacy and Early Mathematic Skills Subtests.

The results indicated that early Literacy and Math skills in preschoolers from a disadvantaged socio-economic background are associated with Working Memory and Executive Functions in both children with typical development and children with SEN. Furthermore, SEN children’s performances showed to be below average compared to their typically developing peers. These results seem to confirm that children with SEN show an EF impairment, which could influence learning abilities.

As well as being of theoretical interest, these findings could also have practical implications. Knowing the strength of the association between early achievement and cognitive abilities, it would be possible to design and deploy specific training interventions in the educational context to foster working memory and executive functions, thus potentially improving learning abilities. This kind of training would be beneficial for both children with typical development and children with SEN, especially those from a disadvantaged socio-economic context: as we have previously seen, children from such contexts face a higher risk of academic failure.Therefore, the findings presented in this study could have a practical benefit in daily educational practice, by way of supporting school inclusion and satisfying children’s individual needs.
Special Educational Needs, Executive Functions, Working Memory, Early Achievements, low SES context.