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State of Literacy in South Africa

  • In the majority of the public school system, almost 60% of the learners in the system are not yet able to read fluently and with understanding by the time they are 10 years old. [VW Literacy Programme] 
  • Eight out of every ten children in the country cannot read in any language. Among Setswana and Sepedi home language learners the figure is over 90%. [The unfolding reading crisis: The new PIRLS 2016 results…]
  • Children from low-income families hear on average 30 million fewer words than their affluent peers by the age of three. [Learning to Read In A South African Context]

The unfolding reading crisis: The new PIRLS 2016 results…

PIRLS 2016 results were released by the Minister of Basic Education Ms Angie Motshekga. The study revealed that 8 in 10 children cannot read for meaning. This new report provides the latest evidence helping us to understand the unfolding reading crisis.

South African Childhood Early Review 2016

The Review finds that close to 3 969 000, or 63%, of young children in South Africa live in poverty. Their development – including physical, cognitive, emotional – is compromised because they are not receiving the services and care they need.  Provinces with the highest rates of child poverty are the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo.

“The returns on investment in early learning, for children under 6, are vastly higher than those from later education, even primary schooling,” says Giese.  “Science tells us that early stimulation’s impact on language and numerical ability is immense. The results are life-long: they affect people’s job prospects and earning potential, so early learning is important not only for individuals, but for breaking inter-generational cycles of poverty.”

 

Learning to Read In A South African Context

Many of South Africa’s children are already at a disadvantage before they even begin school. This is because children from low-income families hear on average 30 million fewer words than their affluent peers by the age of three. This alone has a significant impact on their ability to hone basic literacy skills and achieve in school.

Once children start primary school, an additional set of compounding challenges emerge. With 11 official languages in South Africa, 70% of Grade 1 to 3 learners are taught in an African language. When learners reach Grade 4, the majority of them are then instructed in English. This approach is based on research that indicates that children acquire English language skills more easily when they receive instruction in their mother tongue in Grades 1 to 3.

 

Evaluation of Literacy in South African schools

In 2003, Grade 3 Gauteng learners were functioning at an average language skills level of 39 per cent (Department of Education systemic evaluation). In February 2006, the Department’s Grade 6 evaluation results also revealed poor levels of literacy amongst Gauteng learners.

Open Letter to the next South African president: Get an urgent plan to eradicate illiteracy

  • Eight out of every ten children in the country cannot read in any language.
  • Among Setswana and Sepedi home language learners the figure is over 90%.
  • What South Africa needs is to decide what Japan decided in 1872, that “there must be no community with an illiterate family, nor a family with an illiterate person”. This became Japan’s ‘Fundamental Code of Education’. Within decades they had successfully eradicated illiteracy.
  • What South Africa needs is a Marshall Plan for Reading. We need youto use yourpresidency to mobilise our country behind one goal: That all children can read for meaning by the end of Grade 3.

 

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