This is according to research fellow at Stellenbosch: Research on Socio-Economic Policy Dr Nic Spaull, who spoke at the Stellenbosch Forum Lecture.
Spaull said 78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa can’t read for meaning in any language, and the fact that they can’t do this by the end of Grade 3 is a problem for the economy, civic engagement and all other aspects of life.
“If you can’t read for meaning in any language in the first three years of school, your literary falls further and further behind the curriculum.
“Every child should be able to read for meaning by the age of 10. This is not a particularly ambitious goal and is definitely realisable and measurable,” said Spaull.
He said new research shows that 45% of Grade 4 classes in South African schools do not have a single learner who can read and make basic inferences.
This is happening despite the fact that the curriculum is structured in a way for the first three years of school to be the learning-to-read phase and Grade 4 onwards to be the reading-to-learn phase. Spaull said it should be a national priority to get pupils up to speed.
The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in SA director Dr Carole Bloch agreed that the situation at SA schools is a crisis.
“It has been a crisis for a long time we’ve had this situation for decades. At the heart of the issue there are two problems: one is the language issue of having three years of being taught in your mother tongue before moving to English,” said Bloch.
Another problem included the way children are taught to read at schools, which is based on the technical side of reading. Pupils are taught to read letters and sound words and how to put words together. However, Bloch said this doesn’t give children what they need to appreciate the need for reading in their lives.
Early childhood specialist Nadia Lubowski agreed with Bloch and said when it comes to early literacy, children need to read for meaning from the start, and they need the opportunity to experiment and explore with print.