The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) showed that South Africa scored the lowest out of 50 countries in terms of literacy.
Director of Inclusive Education SA Robyn Beere said many pupils came into the education system with a poor early childhood development background and were thrust into a system that didn’t support them.
Beere said that because the policy of the Education Department says a pupil can only be held back once in a grade, they should be promoted with assistance, but this is not happening.
“You should go on with support, the Grade 2 teacher should support the pupil at Grade 1 level. On the one hand the teachers do not have the skill to support different pupils and on the other hand the department doesn’t support them either.”
She said not catering to individual needs led to the gap in learning getting wider and wider.”
National Professional Teachers Association’s president Nkosiphendule Ntantala said the poor reading performance was linked to the average class size of 45 pupils.
“This increases to over 50 learners per class when learners are taught in Xitsonga, Tshivenda and siSwati.
“These class sizes are unacceptable. Improvement will not come on the back of over-crowded classrooms.”
He said real strategies to address the lack of parental involvement, better funding for the foundation phase and the formalisation of Grade R are urgently needed.
“Whether through parental encouragement of early literacy learning, attending pre-primary education, or both - 29% of the pupils were able to perform early literacy tasks very well when they began primary school. These students had higher reading achievement in the fourth grade than their classmates who started school with only moderate literacy skills or few skills.”
Co-founder of Injini, the first education technology organisation dedicated programme and fund in Africa, Jamie Martin said the situation was dire.
“This is a reading crisis. If after four years they can’t read, then everything they are reading affects how they cope in other lessons.”
He said there was a need for a more knowledge-rich curriculum to meet pupils’ needs.
“Those children will be in matric in about eight to 10 years time and they will fail their matric, because they will not be able to cope.”