‘Ticking time bomb:’ PIRLS report on children’s literacy ‘concerning’

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

Published May 23, 2023


Cape Town - Described as a ticking time bomb with catastrophic consequences for future generations, calls have been made for urgent intervention from Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, following the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) that found that 81%of Grade 4 pupils in South Africa can't read for meaning.

Northern rural provinces experienced the largest declines in reading, with four provinces experiencing declines of more than a full year of learning between 2016 and 2021.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said: “We must not be discouraged but rather have confidence in our efforts to surpass current limitations and raise the skills of African children, despite the challenges posed by limited resources.”

Education consultant from the Western Cape, Mitchell Messina, said the standard of reading of learners in Grades 4 to 6 in the country was cause for “great concern”.

“The PIRLS report shows that there is some disconnect in the relationship between teachers and learners.

“Teachers should be equipped with the proper tools to tackle this as well as strengthen the relationship with learners. We must adopt an approach that is friendly to both learners and teachers, bearing in mind that the mandate is to teach and produce good results in environments that are conducive for learning,” he said.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) called on Motshekga to take urgent action on the report.

“We call on Minister Motshekga to treat the PIRLS findings with appropriate urgency and develop a coherent, timebound national response to the reading crisis

“The Commission reiterates its calls for the department to give effect to the Commission’s Right to Read and Write Report,” said the SAHRC.

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the union had met and would respond to the report in due course.

Western Cape Education MEC David Maynier said the pandemic had an impact on teaching and learning.

“What the PIRLS results clearly confirm is that the pandemic had effectively wiped out years of gains, and put the futures of our youngest learners at serious risk. Which is why we are investing a further R1.2 billion into our #BackOnTrack programme over the next three years, to improve learning outcomes across all phases so that our children have a better future in the Western Cape.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into getting this massive programme off the ground,” said Maynier.

Cape Times