As Eusebius McKaiser wrote in the 2017 Mail & Guardian article, ‘Illiteracy threatens our democracy’, having access to books and literature as a child saved his life. Not only did it provide him with a way to escape to a different life, broaden his vocabulary and conceptual skills, but it equipped him with analytical needed during the apartheid years.
Not only the economy will suffer from a labour force that is poorly educated but our democracy itself will also be poorer if citizens cannot enjoy their civil and political rights meaningfully in the absence of a culture of reading, and reading with comprehension.
It is impossible to exaggerate the stakes. A deliberative and participatory model of democracy presupposes a critical mass of citizens who read, and who do so with comprehension.Eusebius McKaiser
78% of nine and 10-year old children in South Africa cannot read for meaning
The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) tests aimed to asses reading comprehension and monitor trends in literacy across several countries. South Africa was one of 50 countries that participated. The tests revealed that 78% of children in grade 4 could not read for meaning. The study also revealed that 62% of South African schools did not have libraries, which are vital for promoting a reading culture and nurturing a love of reading.
A TimesLive article ‘80% of Grade 4s ran’t read, literacy survey reveals’ included the following points:
- Almost four in five Grade 4 pupils fall below the lowest internationally recognised level of reading literacy‚ and South Africa is last out of 50 countries in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls).
- Professor Sarah Howie‚ the Pirls co-ordinator for South Africa‚ said the results suggested most pupils cannot read well enough to succeed in subjects across the curriculum in Grade 4 and higher grades.
- “While less than half of the learners who wrote the tests in English and Afrikaans could read‚ 80% of those learning in one of the other nine official languages effectively cannot read at all.”
As Eusebius McKaiser’s article notes, these systemic failures in South Africa’s education system have existed for a long time, yet are not treated with urgency.
That means the democratic project is fatally wounded without an urgent national plan to teach teachers how to teach reading better and to ensure well-stocked public libraries in all our communities and one in every school, as well as developing and entrenching a culture of reading and of enjoying books, as much as our children love technology.Eusebius McKaiser
In a podcast on Cape Talk. ‘Democracy is in trouble if your children cannot read for meaning’, Eusebius McKaiser and Stephen Taylor expanded on these points:
- In a comparative study among 50 countries, South Africa placed last in the measurement of the reading skill set of Grade 4 learners.
- 702/CapeTalk host Eusebius McKaiser said that the young are being set up for guaranteed failure, and democracy in itself is in trouble if our children cannot read with comprehension.
- Stephen Taylor, Director of Research at the Department of Basic Education:
- Early reading outcomes are strongly predictive of later education outcomes like getting to matric.
- If we look at between 2006 and 2011 there actually does seem to be an improvement.
Read more and listen to the podcast on Cape Talk: http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/284552/