South Africa faces literacy crisis

The South African study, conducted by UP’s Centre for Evaluation and Assessment, is the first and most significant baseline study of reading literacy conducted in South African Primary schools, over all 11 official languages and compared to international benchmarks and standards. Approximately 30 000 Grade 4 learners in more than 400 schools across the country participated in the study. Internationally, 215 000 children were surveyed in 40 countries.

The study showed that 78% of SA Grade 5 learners have not developed the basic reading skills required for learning. This is in stark contrast to the 6% international standard. The research showed that almost half of the children tested in English or Afrikaans attained the lowest international benchmark, between 86% and 96% of learners tested in official African languages failed to make the grade.

The Russian Federation, Hong Kong, Singapore and Italy were among the countries whose learners obtained the highest scores.

Researchers also found that most South African children have very few books at home and half of the learners polled had no books at home. 60% of schools visited did not have libraries. This is problematic since the international research showed that early literacy activities at home played an important part in later reading skills.

“We hope that this empirical study with its rich information will serve as a vehicle for policymakers, curriculum planners, educators and educational researchers to improve reading literacy and to answer crucial questions related to learners’ reading performance,” says Prof. Sarah Howie, Director of the Centre of Evaluation and Assessment at UP and Co-National Research Co-ordinator for PIRLS SA.

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