This study sought to investigate the Effect of Phonics on pupils’ achievement in word recognition in Oshimli South Local Government Area. Three research questions and three hypotheses guided the study. A non equivalent control group quasi-experimental design was used. A multi phase sampling technique was used to select 144 primary one pupils from four primary schools in Oshimili South Local Government Area of Delta State as subjects for the study. The word recognition achievement test (WRAT) was developed, validated and used for data collection. Means, standard deviations and a 2×2 analysis of covariance were used to analyze the data. The study found out that:

  1. The experimental group achieved better in word recognition using phonics than the control group using whole language.
  2. Phonics reading strategy favored male pupils in word recognition than their female counterpart.
  3. Phonics reading strategy favored pupils in the urban area than those in the rural area.



Background of the Study

Primary Education is the first formal Education level. It is the education given in institutions for children aged six to eleven plus. This level of education has among its goals the inculcation of permanent literacy and numeracy and the ability to communicate effectively (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004:14). At this level of education, the medium of communication is the language of the immediate environment. Ogbuchi, (2003) sees language as the expression of idea by means of speech sounds combined into sentences and the combination leading to ideas and thoughts. She went on to describe it as a purely human and non instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntary produced symbols. While Trager (2001), describes language as a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates. Language can therefore be defined as a special tool used in passing information between two or more persons.

Nigeria appreciates the importance of language as a means of promoting social interaction and national unity as well as preserving cultures (FRN, 2004). This is why it is placed first in the list of the goals and the curriculum of primary education respectively. Language is the most vital element for all forms of learning. It is the medium for giving, receiving, hiding and distorting information (Ogbuchi 2003). Language is therefore a social tool used by people to carry out the affairs of the society.

It is in recognition of the above facts that the Federal Government of Nigeria, in the National Policy on Education (FRN, 2004) recommends that the mother tongue or the first language (Li) should be the language of instruction at both the pre primary

level and junior primary level, while English language (L2) becomes language of instruction from the senior primary school. The use of English as a medium of instruction from the senior primary school has adverse effect on the teaching and learning situation. Children are now required to speak, read and write, study and think in a language they are not familiar with.

The implication is that for the Nigerian primary school child, vocabulary knowledge and word recognition is problematic. These are important factors to reading development because if children cannot recognize written words they will not be able to extract meaning from them. Since they are second language readers, Nigerian primary school child learn with a bilingual second language and go through a complex process involving two languages, one of which is usually foreign to their natural speech habits, home background and culture (Alyousef, 2006).

Reading is one form of communication that must be developed in children right from their early years. It is an activity that every child engages in, from the day the child commences the educational career at the pre primary level then through the long years at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. Alyousef (2006) simply defined reading as a process of obtaining information from a text. It is a complex process that involves interaction or negotiation between the reader and the text, leading to fluency or automacity. Vacca and Vacca (2002) also see reading as a conversation, a give and take exchange between the reader and the text. In this context, reading is a meaning searching and meaning getting activity that involves the reader and the text leading to success both in and out of school. In this context, reading can be defined as the ability of the reader to get meaning from the author’s message in the text.

In the present information age children are expected to read text to learn. All text and examination requires their ability to read examination questions. Evidently, academic achievement of any kind is therefore closely tied to children’s reading ability. It is in view of this fact that Oyetunde (1999) in Ezema (2002, 175) contends as follows: “Can you imagine what life is for school children who can’t read? I am sure you cannot bear to think of it. I can’t” The teaching of reading in our primary schools and the performance of pupils in public examination have been reportedly very poor. Thus, pupils performance in primary school examination in Oshimili South Local Government Area of Delta State for 2006-2010 revealed that the level of achievement pass in English language is average and this could be attributed to pupils reading at frustration level. (see appendix iv)

The findings of United Nations International Children’s Education Fund GCA reading projects in public primary schools in the 10 UNICEF A field states of Anambra, Enugu, Benue, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers state, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia state reveal that only few children can read fluently and respond to their reading and that primary six pupils can neither decode nor comprehend. In the like manner, research findings have revealed that there is a serious problem of reading at all levels of education in Nigeria (Idogo, 2005, Alegbeleye, 2004). These researchers in their respective findings further revealed that a large number of elementary school pupils lack literacy skills especially reading which they require in their formal and non formal learning situations. Some of the pupils find it difficult to read and understand and some of them also show carefree attitude to reading (Adeniyi, 2010). Scholars like Idogo, (2005) and Ajayi, (2004) have traced the problem of reading skills to the weak foundation that pupils have in reading at the primary level. Researchers such as Kolawole, Adepoju and Adelore (2000) and Adegbite (1999) identified teacher choice of method as one of the main factors of poor performance in reading.

Most teachers unfortunately, do not understand the difference between teaching English and teaching reading. Actually, reading is done not to practice the reading skill but to practice and learn English language (grammar and vocabulary) through reading. In Nigerian public schools today, the spelling method and whole language are widely used in teaching reading. The Universal Basic Education Commission (2010) describes the spelling method as an approach by which children are taught to read the words by first spelling them. First they are taught to recognize individual letters of the alphabet, master them, and even sing them out so as to recall all the 26 letters individually. Thereafter they are taught to build up words by spelling them. This method is still widely used in many Nigerian schools. Some of the weaknesses associated with this method are that it makes children stick to spelling of all words in their effort to read, even much later in life. When this is an established practice children are essentially slowed down.

Secondly, the whole language method introduces connected words and sentences to learners. Children are not taught to first recognize individual letters, rather words and short sentences are presented as language units and the pupils are led to say what they mean. They are encouraged to memorize words as whole units, for instance the word “CAT” could be presented perhaps with the picture of that animal, and children are told to pronounce the word. They are never led to do the spelling. After successfully calling the name, they are led to practice writing the word by imitating what they see on the chalkboard or cardboard. Thereafter whole sentences follow. For instance, they see the picture of a cat running, and are asked what they can see the cat doing. Gradually they are led to read “THE CAT IS RUNNING” which is the caption below the picture. This method helps children to learn how to read ‘sight words” which are words that do not reflect the sounds of what they stand for. Examples of sight words are “the”, “said”, “find” etc.

The strengths of whole language method are quite obvious. First, it encourages children to begin to write early. Second, it gets them to be involved in connected print rather than stick to letters for long before connecting the letters to form words. An obvious weakness of this method is that children never acquire a full phonic foundation. That is, they are not quite able to decode unfamiliar words. It is like not being able to describe individual leaves that make up a large tree though they are able to describe the tree fully In spite of all these methods, in the views of Carle (2005), a lot of school children still have problems becoming good readers at the primary school level of education. There is therefore need to adopt a phonics reading strategy to see if there will be an improvement in the reading skills of primary school children.

The phonics method encourages children to begin reading through auditory training that is training their ears to recognize the sounds of letters, and associating these sounds and letters with the shapes of the letters in written form. This is of course carried over to the association of the letters and sounds with specific words which they learn in the process. The Manual for the Training of Federal Teachers Scheme (2010) describes the phonic method as a method of introducing the sounds of the language to children through words that can be related to such sounds. The phonic method teaches children to “sound out” new words. In most cases, they first learn what a letter stands for, and then learn to associate the sound and the letter to specific words. Literature tends to suggest that phonics method of teaching reading can be used to get young learners to master the skills of reading Moat (2000), Tompskin (2003) and Vacca (1998). Many of these literatures are alien. Nigerians live in a different environment with a different environment with a different culture. Also, there is lack of literature to show that such a study on the effect of phonics has been carried out within our cultural context especially in Oshimili South Local Government Area of Delta State.

Location could also be a factor in children’s acquisition of reading skills. The location of a school, according to Okoye (2009) has a significant effect on a child’s ability to study and perform at the level expected of the child. In the view of Abidogun (2005), the rural areas are seen as having the greater challenges concerning educational development than urban centres due to the peculiar socio-economic and institutional structures in the rural areas. Specifically, according to Okoye (2009), in Nigeria, most rural-based schools lack enough qualified teachers, are poorly equipped and lack basic amenities, all serving as inhibiting factors to good academic performance. It is quite obvious that the degree of interest and motivation a child derives from a learning environment may affect his performance.

Pupil’s characteristic such as gender has been linked to early measures of language and learning. Gender has been used to describe the behavior expected of an individual on the basis of being born a male or female (Mboto and Bassey 2004). Girls tend to have a slight advantage over boys in the early stages of vocabulary development (Tamis Le Monda and Rodriguez, 2008). Contrarily, Okeke (1999) posits that some socio-cultural impediments such as role stereotyping and the belief that reading is a male gender subject pose obstacles to female pupils participation in reading. On the other hand, Gambell and Hunter (2000) claim that boys do less well than girls in reading, almost regardless of the criteria used to assess competency. Boys predominantly held negative attitudes towards reading stating that reading is boring and feminine activity (Clark and Akerman, 2006). Research on reading has indicated that actually there may be sex differences. Two major theoretical explanations have been given, namely inherent biological differences or maturational differences between males and females and cultural or environmental sources (Okeke, 1999). While some researchers claim male superiority to reading, others claim female superiority. But there is no universally accepted view. This study intends to find out the truism or otherwise of this view.

For the primary school child, word recognition is the foundation of the reading process; this explains why words are the building blocks of comprehension (Gough, 1985). It is also true that the overall goal of reading is comprehension, but without the ability to recognize words in continuous text accurately, this goal cannot be achieved. (Oyetunde and Muodumogu, 1999) More also, it has been observed by the Universal Basic Education Commission (2010), that the area of phonics, which has close affinity to the ability to read efficiently and speak intelligibly has not been properly addressed. Hence this study is motivated by the desire to adapt phonics method in the teaching of word recognition in primary schools in Oshimili South Local Government Area of Delta State.

Statement of the Problem

Reading is an important tool for children because it forms the gateway to knowing the wider world and the environment. Reading can only be meaningful if it is understood. It is therefore important that every reading activity children are introduced to must make sense in print. Written form of words will only have meaning for children if they are familiar with these words in speech. The ability of a reader to recognize words is the key to proficiency in reading for first language (L1) readers. Since Nigerian primary school children are second language readers, knowledge of vocabulary and word recognition are problematic issues. Evidence also abound that many children, especially at the primary school level read at a frustration level. Observation has also shown that most pupils, at their primary education, are still deficient in the basic reading skills. This deficiency has been traced to a number of factors especially poor teaching methods where the teachers often focus more on what is taught and not the learners.

Although, literature abounds on the use of phonics as an effective strategy of getting young learners to master the skills of reading, there are no literature to show that that such a study has been carried out within our cultural context especially Oshimili South Local Gove rnment Area of Delta State. This study is therefore concerned with teaching primary school pupils word recognition using phonics reading strategy. What then will be the effect of phonics reading strategy on pupil’s achievement in word recognition?

Purpose of the Study

The general purpose of this study is to find out the effect of phonics on pupils’ achievement in word recognition. Specifically, the study is aimed at finding out the following:

  1. Whether there is a difference in the post test mean scores in achievement in word recognition of pupils taught reading using phonics and those taught using whole language
  2. Gender related differences in pupils’ achievement in word recognition using phonics.
  3. Whether the location will affect pupils’ achievement in word recognition using phonics

Significance of the Study

The primary school has a critical role to play in laying the foundation on which other levels of education must build. This implies that the foundation of school subjects must be solidly laid at the primary school level. Nigerian primary school children are second language readers hence vocabulary knowledge and word recognition are both important, the findings of this study will benefit to primary school teachers, pupils, curriculum planners and the government.

Findings of this study would be of immense benefit to primary school teachers as this would enhance their enthusiasm for the use of phonics towards the achievement of pupils’ word recognition skills. Profound understanding on phonics reading strategy on pupil’s academic achievement would spur teachers on the need to update their knowledge, skills and abilities through seminars and capacity building workshops. It would also be beneficial to pupils as it would enhance pupils’ interest in reading and also make them to be phonemically aware by engaging them in activities that would help in building their vocabulary and word recognition skills.

Curriculum planners on the other hand would benefit from the findings of this study as they need to have profound understanding of phonics reading strategy on pupil’s academic achievement. Such understanding will be utilized in the planning of the curriculum and budgetary provisions of facilities and staff development on training and retraining of teachers in order to facilitate teaching and learning within and outside the classroom. Finally, this study will be beneficial to government. It will serve as a useful intervention for them. It will in turn necessitate the organization and training programmes for new primary school teachers and lecturing of old teachers on the techniques needed for effective use of phonics reading strategy.

Scope of the Study

The study was limited to Oshimili South Local Government Area of Delta State. It focused on one urban and one rural area and these are Asaba town which is the Headquarter of Delta state and Okoh which is almost a riverine community without good road network. There are 29 schools in Oshimili South LGA. Two schools each were selected from Asaba and Okoh making a total of four schools. (See appendix iv)

Specifically, the study was limited to primary one pupil in the area of the study. Primary one was chosen because it is at this lower level of education that pupils are taught word recognition skill so that by the time they move to the upper basic school they will be fluent readers. The topics were drawn from the primary one school curriculum module. Furthermore, this study mainly focused on the achievement of pupils as a result of the use of phonics in word recognition.

Research Questions

This study was guided by the following research questions;

  1. What is the difference in the post test mean scores in achievement of pupils taught reading using phonics and whole language?
  2. What gender differences are there in the post test mean scores in achievement using phonics and whole language?
  3. What is the difference in the post test mean scores of pupils’ achievement in word recognition using phonics with regards to location?


The following null hypotheses were formulated to guide the study and were tested at 0.05 level of significance.

  1. There will be no significant difference in the post test mean scores in achievement of pupils taught using phonics and whole language strategy for word recognition.
  1. There will be no significant gender difference in the post test mean achievement scores of pupils taught using phonics and whole language.
  1. There will be no significant location difference in the post test mean achievement scores of pupils’ taught using phonics and whole language.