General News

Literacy report paints bleak picture on SA learners

Date: Dec 6, 2017

The South African Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, released the latest round of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) on Tuesday.

Researchers at Stellenbosch University (SU) have seen an embargoed copy of the report, with a number of very concerning findings. The study indicates where South Africa ranks compared to other countries and what percentage of South African Grade 4 students can read.

The report says eight out of 10 South African children cannot read, with 78% of Grade 4 students not being able to read for meaning.

It says the learners could not reach the Low International Benchmark in reading and could not locate and retrieve explicitly stated information or make straightforward inferences about events and reasons for actions. Further, the report states that South Africa scores last in reading, out of 50 countries.

South African Grade 4 children have scored the lowest mark in the latest 2016 round of the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study. The study included mostly high income countries but there were a number of middle-income countries such as Iran, Chile, Morocco and Oman. While 78% of South African Grade 4 kids cannot read, in America the figure is only 4% and just 3% in England.

However, the study also included middle-income countries. In Iran, only 35% of Grade 4 students could not read for meaning while Chile stands at 13%. 

The report indicates that reading crisis in South Africa is deeper than previous years. The only good news coming out of PIRLS 2016 report is that there may have been significant improvements in reading between 2006 and 2011. Because the scale scores are now comparable, the performance of Grade 4's in 2006 and Grade4's in 2011 and 2016 can be compared. The comparison seems to suggest quite a significant increase in reading scores between 2006 and 2011.

However, there has been no improvement in reading scores over the last five years, since 2011 to 2016. Report reveals that females' scores are much higher than male students in reading across the board.

In Grade 4, girls are a full year of learning ahead of boys. The gender gap is the second largest among all 50 countries that participated. Only Saudi Arabia's is higher. The gap between boys and girls is also growing over time.


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