School readiness has a long-term effect on the development of a learner, including a successful school career, employment and the ability to contribute to society. The criteria for the personal readiness of the learner at school entry were proposed by the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP, 1991), and include physical well-being and motor development; social-emotional development; approaches to learning; language usage and communication skills; and cognitive skills and general knowledge.
As learning starts long before school entry, stimulation during the pre-school years should not be underestimated. External factors that have an impact on the personal readiness of the child include the expectations of the parents, the readiness of the school, preschool experiences and the environment of the child. Many studies have proven that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less ready for formal learning than their more advantaged peers, since they are often deprived from attending good quality preschools. As a result they are at heightened risk for school failure, which has serious and long-lasting consequences.
In South Africa a significant number of young learners have not reached the required level of readiness to cope with formal learning in Grade 1, due to inadequate early learning experiences, which in most cases, is the result of poverty and deprivation. Instead of a smooth transition from the informal preschool environment to the formal learning environment of the Grade 1 classroom, these learners are traumatised by the fact that they cannot keep up with the pace and requirements of the formal learning situation, resulting in experiences of failure, discouragement and a poor self esteem which, in turn will have a negative long term effect on the academic performance of these learners. School readiness is regarded as a multi-dimensional construct which, apart from the personal readiness of the learner, also includes the readiness of the school to support learners according to their diverse needs. Schools have a responsibility to provide positive learning environments as well as positive learning experiences for their learners. According to the teachers in this study their schools are not prepared to support these learners by addressing their needs. Their predominant concern is the inaccessibility of the current curriculum for learners with insufficient school readiness.