South African reading literacy achievement under scrutiny

Posted on October 02, 2014

An article about the research, co-authored by a leading school effectiveness expert, Prof Roel Bosker from the Rijks Universiteit, Groningen in the Netherlands, has been accepted for publication in the South African Journal of Education.

The study draws on the preProgress in International Reading Literacy Study (prePIRLS) 2011 data, which places South African Grade 4 learners’ results substantially below the international centre point of 500 at 461 (SE=3.7). Selected items from the prePIRLS 2011 learner, parent and teacher questionnaires were used in a two-level model to determine the effect of learner aptitude, opportunity to learn and quality of instructional events on reading literacy achievement.

According to Dr Van Staden, the results point to the statistical significance of engaged reading and cultivating motivation for reading among learners from an early age, specifically through parental involvement in introducing early literacy activities as foundation of reading literacy by school-going age. Other results provide evidence for the importance of the value of reading across the curriculum not confined to formal reading lessons only.

“The teaching of reading comprehension skills and strategies is identified as a significant predictor of reading literacy achievement, instruction of which should form an integral part of teaching reading in the classroom,” she notes.

Reading research to be published

As part of the prePIRLS research, Dr Van Staden will publish two more research articles on the findings her research has made. One of the articles, co-authored with Celeste Combrinck en Karen Roux, focuses on patterns in introducing critical reading skills and strategies to South African children. Dr Van Staden explains that a universally acceptable goal of primary education is the mastery of reading comprehension, since reading comprehension provides the basis for most learning that takes place in secondary school.

“In South Africa, grave concerns with regards to low levels of learner achievement pervade research initiatives and educational debates. This study aims to illustrate the link between the introduction of early home literacy activities as well as reading skills and strategies early in the foundation phase to aid the development of comprehension and thus reading literacy achievement among South African Grade 4 learners.”

The results of the data indicate that these reading skills and strategies should be introduced in Grade 1 for learners to achieve improved reading skills and ultimately, higher reading achievement scores in studies such as prePIRLS 2011. The data also provide evidence that even when skills and strategies are entrenched as part of the national curriculum, these still do not receive emphasis. In this regard, schools play a pivotal role in ensuring the implementation of the curriculum to ensure learners have the best chance at sustained success and mastery.

She adds that together, parents and schools have the responsibility of laying the foundations for reading in the first year of schooling.

“When both these interventions are in place, i.e. schools starting early with all seven Grade 1 reading skills and strategies, and parents conducting early home literacy activities with their child, then the learner will have a higher chance at mastering reading skills that are pivotal for later learning.”

The second article, to be published in Perspectives in Education, reports on Dr Van Staden’s doctoral investigation under supervision of Prof Sarah Howie, to identify and explain relationships between some major learner- and school-level factors associated with successful reading in Grade 5.

- Author Petronel Fourie
Published by Petronel Fourie

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