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Learning to Read and Reading to Learn. Policy Brief

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.

  Typically children learn in an African language in Grades 1 to 3 then switch to English from Grade 4 onwards. The logic behind this approach is that children find it easier to become literate in a second-language if they are first literate in their home language. Unfortunately in South African classrooms most children do not learn to read for meaning in an African language (or any language) by the end of Grade 3. Thus they are switching into a second language when they have not in fact become literate in a first language.

Five main policy recommendations emerge from this research:

1. Emphasise reading as a unifying goal for early primary schooling. 

2. Teach primary school teachers how to teach reading in African languages and in English. 

3. Develop evidence-based interventions and evaluations and provide sustained support. 

4. Declare early literacy research (particularly in African languages) a National Research Foundation (NRF) Research Priority Area.

5. Establish oral reading fluency norms for South Africa’s African languages.

Author: Nic Spaull (2016)

Download the brief here