Angie Motshekga maintains Grade 4s can read for meaning

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga insisted South African children could read, contrary to the study’s results. Photo: GCIS

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga insisted South African children could read, contrary to the study’s results. Photo: GCIS

Published May 19, 2023


Cape Town - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has said that instead of being condemned, her department should be commended for being courageous for participating in the survey on the reading comprehension of Grade 4 pupils.

Motshekga said South Africa, Morocco and Egypt were part of the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) that found that only 19% of South Africa's Grade 4 pupils can read for meaning.

We are the only three countries on the continent that participated in Pirls. The question is why?” she said.

“Why have other people run away from Pirls?”

She was responding during a debate on the department’s 2023-24 budget in the National Assembly on Thursday.

Motshekga was adamant that her department would bounce back and fare better in the study in the future.

“We will fight in Pirls and we are to succeed.”

Motshekga insisted South African children could read, contrary to the study’s results.

“I want to repeat. Our kids can read. They can combine M, A and N to mean man. Many of them, like many of us here, are not able to operate at a cognitive level where we are coherent, we are systematic.

“We make references and that is why they are not passing,” she said.

Earlier in her address, Motshekga acknowledged that the overall reading scores of the country’s Grade 4 learners, who participated in Pirls 2021, dropped from 320 points attained in 2016, to 288 points in 2021.

“We must state that the longer our learners remain in the system, their performance improves steadily, as the Pirls 2021 Grade 6 score shows – that is, an upward shift of 96 points when compared with the Pirls 2021 Grade 4 score.”

Motshekga outlined three priorities her department was committed to in this financial year.

“The first critical priority is our new function of Early Childhood Development.

“The second priority area is a cluster of critical topics from our quest to strengthen our curriculum, focusing on the implementation of a curriculum with skills and competencies for a changing world in all public schools.”

She named school infrastructure delivery as the third priority and indicated that her department planned completing the remaining 673 sanitation projects before March 2024.

DA MP Baxolile Nodada said the department had no plans in place to turn the situation around in the education system.

“They make many promises but there’s little actual impact on the ground,” Nodada said.

He also said Pirls results showed that the country had lost a decade of progress.

“You see, minister, the thing with surveys of achievement is that they don’t care what you say you’ve done, they just measure what children actually know. And what they revealed was devastating,” Nodada said.

EFF MP Reneiloe Mashabela said the department was demonstrating neglect of public education and millions of children by failing to deliver basic infrastructure and employing sufficient qualified teachers.

“We need intense investment to improve the quality of public education with massive investment in school infrastructure, learner support material and cutting-edge technology to enable our learners in the public education system to compete with their counterparts from anywhere else in the world,” Mashabela said.

IFP MP Zandile Majozi said the regression in literacy level in South Africa was at a crisis stage.

This required immediate government intervention.

“Despite the clear problem we are facing, there is no national reading plan or a proper budget,” Majozi said.

Cape Times