School readiness is a crucial construct in the life of a child: being ready to learn and to interact meaningfully with a group of peers and teachers is predictive of later achievement, resilience and well-being (Duncan et al., 2007; Edwards, Baxter, Smart, Sarson & Hayes, 2009). By assessing how ready a child is to make the transition to a formal school environment, and how ready the child is to learn formally, it becomes possible to identify children who are at risk of poorer outcomes (Roodt, Stroud, Foxcroft & Elkonin, 2009). Identification of risk is not done to label children, but rather to extend a helping hand to children who have not yet developed the necessary foundational cognitive, perceptual, physical, social and emotional skills to cope with the multiple demands of formal schooling. This helping hand comes in the form of recommendations for timely, suitable interventions that can potentially enable children to navigate pathways towards resilience.
Drawing on ten years of professional experience as a practising educational psychologist, I will comment in this chapter on how school readiness can be assessed using the Junior South African Individual Scales (JSAIS). Following a brief introduction to the JSAIS, I will draw the reader's attention to the limitations of the JSAIS as a school readiness measure and suggest ways in which psychometrists and psychologists can compensate for this. I will provide pointers to using the JSAIS diagnostically with regard to social and emotional readiness for school, concentration difficulties, language barriers and physical difficulties. I will also emphasise that interpretation of JSAIS results should be nuanced by cognisance of the realities of our multicultural and violent South African context. In essence, this chapter will aim to encourage interns and practitioners not to limit the JSAIS to use as a measure of intelligence, but to use it as a tool to comment qualitatively (rather than just quantitatively) on children's readiness for formal learning.
Defining school readiness
Simply put, school readiness is concerned with how prepared, or ready, a child is to profit from schooling (Reber & Reber, 2001). Despite the apparent simplicity of the aforementioned statement, school readiness is a widely debated term and one that often causes parents and preschool teachers, not to mention children themselves, some distress.