Decline in literacy levels in SA attributed to COVID-19

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Child and adult literacy rates in South Africa have seen a steady decline in the past 2 years, according to data from the World Bank.

South Africa has an adult literacy rate of 87% – ranking lower than other developing countries such as Mexico and Brazil.

Child literacy statistics are even lower, with around a third of children in the country being illiterate.

Regent Business School’s, Doctor Ronel Blom, says the decline in literacy figures in the 2 years can partially be attributed to the COVID- 19 pandemic.

However, Blom says there is a dire need for access to books to improve the levels of literacy in the country.

“The latest figures that I had a look at and that was 2021m – adult literacy in SA stands at 87% which is lower compared to comparable economies such as Mexico which stands at 95% and Brazil which stands at 93%. So, without a doubt, disruptions due to COVID-19 have affected literacy both in adults and children. I think the reason we see a drop is because of access,” Blom explains.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), evidence from 10 years of Early Grade Reading Studies shows that Home Language focused structured pedagogical interventions make an impact.

UNICEF SA partnered with the European Union to South Africa, the Department of Basic Education and the National Education Collaboration Trust to launch the Reading & Leadership Strengthening in South African Schools initiative in 2021, to tackle illiteracy by reaching 292 000 in pupils according to UNICEF.