Research needed to understand why 80% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Education specialist Professor Mary Metcalfe says it is important to figure out why the majority of South African children cannot read for meaning. This follows the release of the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study which showed that over 80% of South African children in Grade 4 cannot read for meaning in any language.

South Africa is the lowest in the assessment of 57 countries, with Singapore ranking first worldwide.

All of the country’s 11 official languages were used in the assessment. Metcalfe says the child’s first three years of schooling are essential.

“Young children, who don’t learn to read in the first three years, and if that learning isn’t consolidated in the remaining years, really go through schooling crippled. Because reading is the foundation of learning all the way through. So, what are we doing wrong?

SAFM interview with Prof Metcalfe: 

“The results that have been published so far for this year, show that we really are not doing well – and the greatest loss and the weakest performance is in those schools that serve the most disadvantaged learners,” Professor Metcalfe explains.

The report shows South Africa’s average score dropped from 320 to 288 in the last five years.

Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Prof. Braam Fleisch weighs in: 

The study reveals that roughly 8 out of 10 children need help locating and retrieving explicitly stated information in simple and easy text.

In 2016 the study found that 78% of SA’s children in Grade 4 had the same disadvantage.

SABC News Iman Rapeti speaks with Dr Stephen Taylor, Economist and Researcher at the Department of Basic Education, to learn why this is the case and what can be done to improve outcomes for the country’s children.