82% of grade 4 school kids can’t read this headline

 ·8 Feb 2023

Data from the latest Background Report for the 2030 Reading Panel has found that most children entering grade 2 do not know the alphabet, while 82% of fourth graders cannot read for meaning – among other disturbing results.

According to GroundUp, the report found that nothing short of a sustained countrywide overhaul of the education system could lead to the ultimate goal of all children over the age of ten being able to read for meaning by 2030.

The 2030 Reading Panel is a group of leaders and researchers convened by former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka that looks to guide education in South Africa.

Extrapolating from Western Cape data, the report estimated that the share of grade 4 children that cannot read for meaning has increased to at least 82%, from 78% recorded in 2016.

The report found that about 60% of children have not learned most of the letters of the alphabet by the end of grade one, citing data from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS), which has followed children from over 200 schools for more than seven years in the North West province.

By the end of Grade 2, over 30% still don’t know all the alphabet letters. The report also found that these children are “perpetually behind and in ‘catch-up’ mode, although they never actually catch up”.

Little is being done in the country to ensure that literacy is prioritised, the researchers said.

Nationally, the DBE is not giving the reading for meaning crisis-specific attention, said GroundUp.

Despite claims to the contrary from the DBE, the report found that there is no National Reading Plan and that the most recent “National Reading Strategy” was published in 2008.

In the 2022 Education Budget Vote, the budget specifically allocated for reading is R11 million to the Early Grade Reading Assessment. This targets 18 schools. The DBE only managed to reach nine schools, it reported.

Teacher shortage

Adding to the problems is the fact that South Africa faces a looming teacher crisis.

Half of all teachers are above the age of 50 and are set to retire soon, affecting teaching and learning in South Africa, the researchers noted.

According to the latest data, since 2016, universities have increased teacher supply, but provinces have not increased hiring, leading to larger class sizes.

Paul Esterhuizen, the chief executive of education NGO School Days, said that the department of education is not hiring an adequate number of teachers to replace the workforce.

He added that government needs to make it far more attractive for younger people – one way of doing so is by revising the occupation’s salary.

The report said that: “Despite younger teachers having lower salaries than older teachers, the retirement wave is unlikely to lead to large cost-savings on salaries due to a change in 2019 where teachers earn 1.5% more per year instead of the previous 1% more per year.”

“In early 2022, it was expected that replacing older (more expensive) teachers with younger (less expensive) teachers would lead to an overall cost-saving. This is no longer the case.

“Modelling at the end of 2022 shows that the average 2.9% decline in the cost of senior teachers is completely offset by the overall increase for teachers as a whole of 1.8%,” noted the report.

Teacher crisis in South Africa – government responds


You can read more on the report on GroundUp

Read: New school calendars for South Africa – with a big change for start dates

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