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Policy Goal: All children must learn to read fluently and with comprehension by the end of Grade 3.

In the Foundation Phase (Grades 1 to 3) children are ‘learning to read’ but from Grade 4 onwards they are meant to be ‘reading to learn’, that is, using the skill of reading to acquire new information. However, if children cannot ‘read for meaning’ they cannot access the curriculum and they fall further and further behind even as they move into higher grades. Unfortunately, most children in South Africa do not learn to read for meaning by the end of Grade 3 and remain perpetually behind.

Read more: Learning to Read and Reading to Learn. Policy Brief

"Every child aged between birth and five years should have access to high quality language, literacy and mathematics learning opportunities, which are delivered by skilled ECD practitioners and are available in all early years settings, including the home.

This briefing looks at why the period between birth and five years is such a crucial formative time for a child, setting the trajectory for their school years and beyond. It explains how the benefits of investing in this period are deep and wide, providing the foundations not only for individual flourishing, but also for a successful education system, a stronger society, and more efficient public spending. High quality opportunities for language, literacy and maths learning have been shown to be an essential element of any successful early years programme, and consider how and why language is at the heart of all learning."

Download the Policy brief here


"In this paper we use population-wide panel data to follow every South African student from the 2008 cohort as they enter into and progress through university, following them for six years. We find indisputable evidence of a large female advantage that continues to grow at each hurdle of the higher education process. To be specific, relative to their male counterparts we find 27% more females who qualified for university, 34% more who enroll in university, 56% more who complete any undergraduate qualification and 66% more who attain a bachelor’s degree. This despite there being roughly equal numbers of boys and girls at the start of school."

Authors: Hendrik van Broekhuizen & Nic Spaull, November 2017

Download the paper here

Since the launch of the Legacy Literacy Initiative in 2015, the VW Community Trust and its partners have developed and implemented a comprehensive literacy programme with a strategic goal of ensuring that children in Uitenhage are functionally literate by age 10 or grade 3.

The theme in 2017 was “Reading 4 Meaning, the building blocks”. At the conference, the results of the latest survey conducted by Rhodes University onreading ability amongst Grade 3 learners in Uitenhage was shared, examining what has been achieved and assessing what still needs to be done.



Key strategies, case studies and recommendations to grow a culture of reading in South Africa that all of us can get involved in:

"You cannot divorce the literacy development of children from the quality of the schooling system. In a comprehensive review of the quality of education in South Africa, Spaull (2013) makes the following observation:

“…the vast majority of South African pupils are signifi cantly below where they should be in terms of the curriculum, and more generally, have not reached a host of normal numeracy and literacy milestones. As it stands, the South African education system is grossly inefficient, severely underperforming and egregiously unfair”

Serious efforts to address the inefficiencies of our schooling system and to improve the quality of education are critical – and Spaull makes important policy recommendations in his report. This document, however, seeks to highlight opportunities that all of us can get involved in to reduce the significant loss in potential in the short term.

It is worth remembering that resources are not our greatest obstacle. South Africa spends 20% of its national budget on education – in real terms, that is more than almost every other country in sub-Saharan Africa – yet its outcomes lag behind many of its poorer neighbours. It is time for us to “work smarter” with what we have. This calls for cooperation and alignment – for an ambitious, concerted and sustained national effort. While government plays a critical role, ensuring that every child can read well needs our entire society to get on board: business and civil society; publishers and the media; retirees and youth; teachers, parents and children. There is no quick fix to get South Africa reading; it requires commitment and collaboration. Yet while the task ahead of us is enormous, we already know a lot about literacy interventions that work. If we build and innovate on existing research and experience, we can make major strides, now, for children who otherwise face a bleak future.

This document outlines five broad strategies in which we can all get involved to get South Africa reading. It is supported by case studies of what has worked in South Africa and elsewhere, and concludes with specific and practical actions that we can take to rewrite South Africa’s literacy story.

The strategies are:

·         Invest heavily in early language learning from birth

·         Exponentially increase access to books and stories, especially in African languages

·         Promote reading for enjoyment – both in and out of the classroom

·         Crowd communities into education

·         Run a sustained, large-scale mass media campaign"

Read more in the policy brief: Lets Get South Africa Reading -Strategies involving all of us

Dowload the policy brief here


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