A study by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) revealed that 78% of South African pupils in Grade 4 are illiterate.
The study, which was funded by the national Department of Basic Education, measured the literacy levels of learners between 2011 and 2016. The study revealed that one of the reasons for these results can be attributed to the fact that many teachers in the foundation phase lack the necessary skills to teach reading to learners.
“To be able to teach a person how to read is a stand-alone skill that every teacher needs so that they are able to teach young people how to read, however, we’ve seen from the study that our teachers lack the appropriate skills to do so. As the Department of Education, this is one area we will be looking at addressing,” said spokesperson at the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Elijah Mhlanga.
Parents aren’t off the hook just yet as the study also revealed that parental support plays a role in a learner’s development. Parents who do not encourage a reading culture by either buying their children books or reading to them and encouraging them to read by themselves, were also contributors to the grim numbers revealed by the study.
Other factors listed include disparities between urban and rural schools, poverty, inequality as well as teacher absenteeism. Mhlanga said that the department welcomes the findings of the study as these will now enable it to find a way to mitigate and where possible, resolve these issues. “The study gives insight into education, reading and literacy and teacher performance in the country. We will be looking further into it to establish what went wrong and how we can improve going forward,” Mhlanga said. Numerous critics have come out saying that the report spells trouble for the future of South Africa’s higher education, especially in light of the fact that another study also revealed that maths teaching and performance in the country is very poor, thus making South Africa a country that now has both literacy and numeracy challenges.