Report warns of lack of reading ability among young children

File Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives.

File Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives.

Published Feb 9, 2023


Durban - Academics in the education field have called on the government to provide sufficient support to foundation-phase teachers, cautioning that failure to do so could have a devastating effect on pupils.

The warning comes after a report by advocacy group 2030 Reading Panel revealed that a significant number of pupils at foundation phase were unable to read for meaning by age 10.

The report, which looked at new research on learning losses in the Western Cape, concluded that 82% of South Africa’s Grade 4 children could not read for meaning, up from 78% pre-pandemic.

“If South Africa experienced learning losses equivalent to the Western Cape, then it is estimated that the percentage of Grade 4 learners who cannot read for meaning in Pirls (Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study) will increase from 78% in 2016 either 82% (if Grade 3 losses are the proxy) or 85% (if Grade 6 losses are the proxy).”

The report added that the national learning losses may be even greater than those in the Western Cape since many studies have found that no-fee schools experienced greater learning losses than fee-charging schools.

The report indicated that:

  • It would take South Africa 86 years on its current trajectory to reach 95% of children reading for meaning,
  • Fifty percent of children in no-fee schools had not learnt the letters of the alphabet by the end of Grade 1.

Professor Elizabeth Henning of the University of Johannesburg said the report by the advocacy group should be a cause for concern for parents and the government. She pointed out that because the report had been formulated by a group of diverse individuals it could not be dismissed.

“Parents should be concerned about a report like this because of its impact on a child’s life because reading is not natural but is taught.

“This report indicates that there are gaps in the process.”

She expressed optimism that the challenge could be dealt with if resources were adequately channelled.

She added that there was nothing wrong with the country’s curriculum but the challenge was in the application, which called for support to be provided to foundation phase teachers.

Another academic, Fikile Simelane, advised the government to take a different approach.

“The first thing is that researchers should all have one vision because once a common vision has been established that makes for a solid foundation. What should follow is that at the implementation phase there should be proper support and monitoring to determine whether what is being done yields the results,” said the academic.

“The kind of support that the government in the form of the Department of Education provides to Grade 12 should be similar to the one for foundation- phase teachers,” said Simelane.

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union KZN secretary Nomarashiya Caluza said the report echoed their call for foundation-phase teachers to be recognised and given appropriate support in line with the important work they do.

“We are not shocked by the report and its findings because it points to the areas that we have always insisted that they need to focus on,” she said.

She expressed worry that the statistics may get worse because of the impact that load shedding has had on learning and teaching.

“We had been expecting such results stemming from the stop/start approach that was imposed because of the lockdown, but now we have an equally big challenge in load shedding.”

Caluza said the report should be more worrying for KZN, which has a larger number of pupils, and called on the department to act swiftly.


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