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State of Literacy in South Africa

Main points in the letter:

  • 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 you to use your presidency to mobilise our country behind one goal: That all children can read for meaning by the end of Grade 3.

 Read more in the Daily Maverick

"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.

However, many learners have not mastered reading for meaning in their first language by the end of Grade 3. The lack of basic literacy skills combined with a poor grasp of a second language (typically English) further inhibits their ability to master literacy skills in the transition to a second language from Grade 4. As a result their struggle to read for meaning or comprehend the curriculum is exacerbated."

Read more: http://help2read.org/2016/09/13/sobering-state-literacy-south-africa

'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.”

“There is great inequality across early learning opportunities for South African children,” added Giese.  “Children from wealthier families have better access to better quality early learning and therefore have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life. Inequality in SA will never be addressed as long as we continue to have inequality in early life opportunity.”

The impact on later education is evident.  The Annual National Assessments show that over 40% of children aren’t able to perform at the expected level in numeracy and literacy by the end of the foundation phase (Grade 3), and performance is poorest amongst the poorest.

“The performance gap that we see at this early stage widens as these children progress through the schooling system,” says Giese.'

Source: https://dgmt.co.za/the-first-comprehensive-review-of-early-childhood-in-south-africa/

The South African Early Childhood Review 2016 is a joint publication between Ilifa Labantwana, the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency.

The full review is available for download here.

"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."

Main findings:
  1. 8 of 10 SA children cannot read.  (PIRLS report page 55)
  2. SA scores last in reading of 50 countries.
  3. SA lags far behind other countries. While 78% of SA Grade 4 kids cannot read, in America this is only 4% and in England just 3% cannot read. 
  4. Reading crisis deeper than previously thought. 
  5. Some evidence of improvement in reading 2006 to 2011 but stagnant since 2011. 
  6. SA reading scores stagnant since 2011. There has been no improvement in reading scores over the last five years (i.e. 2011 to 2016). (PIRLS report page 29)
  7. SA gender gap in reading 2nd highest in the world. Girls score much higher than boys in reading across the board. (PIRLS report page 43).
  8. SA boys scores seem to have declined between 2011 and 2016.   (PIRLS report page 43).
  9. Declining number of SA students reaching high levels of reading achievement. (PIRLS report page 58).