Reading crisis blood bath: Only 1 in 5 grade 4s in SA can read for meaning

Issued by Baxolile ‘Bax’ Nodada MP – DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education
16 May 2023 in News

Please find attached a soundbite by Baxolile ‘Bax’ Nodada MP.

Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) that was released today show that 81% of South African learners in grade 4 cannot read for meaning.

In fact, South Africa scored significantly lower than the center point of the PIRLS scale – 288 compared to 500.

What is possibly more concerning is that 56% of South African grade 6 learners cannot read for meaning when tested on the same grade 4 PIRLS evaluation.

Although 21 of 57 participating countries showed a decline in results due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa scored significantly lower than all compared countries in the grade 4 tests. In fact, South Africa had the largest decline in reading outcomes, with our learners lagging more than 3 years behind Brazilian children.

The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga’s comments on these concerning results shows the ANC government’s utter lack of accountability for the situation they created. She said, “in many South African primary schools, reading instruction often focuses solely on oral performance, neglecting reading comprehension and making sense of written words.”

And as always, the Minister made a promise to finalise a revision of the national reading plan – neglecting to mention that her Department failed to properly implement and monitor the plan, let alone allocate an adequate budget for reading as recently revealed by a GroundUp and Viewfinder investigation.

It is clear that major deficiencies in the South African curriculum and teaching methods are hobbling South African learners and robbing them of bright futures.

Only the DA-run Western Cape has dedicated budget towards improving literacy and reading comprehension as part of its R1.2 billion “Back on Track” programme. While putting aside R111 million for reading particularly in isiXhosa and Afrikaans schools. And the results are speaking for themselves. Western Cape learners achieved the highest scores in the country – an average of 363.

Only Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal also managed to achieve scores higher than the national average.

It is time Minister Motshekga was fired. She is continuously failing generations of learners, 14 years of massive regression and little progress.

Much greater focus must be placed on ensuring that learners’ foundational knowledge is solid. It is time the Department ensured that teachers become experts at teaching their subjects and had all the resources necessary to ensure learners’ success through a catch up plan, budget for reading and vigorous implementation in all languages to improve reading for meaning and quality education.