A shock to the system - Literacy levels in South Africa

We at Bookbinding Services believe that having a healthy relationship with reading forms the basis for many other important areas of one’s intellectuality.

Apart from the fact that we do high quality bookbinding, we are also strongly passionate about the future of our youth and the impact that their foundational education has on the rest of their lives. Reading is one of the biggest building blocks of this foundation.

Bookbinding - Literacy levels in South Africa

Photo credit - help to read

PIRLS & Reading in South Africa

A report was recently released revealing the most devastating news regarding the state of schools in post-apartheid South Africa.

The PIRLS (Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study) 2016 report gave the results of one of the most scientific studies done yet.

12 810 pupils were tested from 293 schools on the state of reading among Grade 4 pupils in South Africa. Shockingly, this study found that almost eight out of 10 children cannot read.

That makes up 78% of children in the grade who sound words, but do not understand the meaning of what they are reading.

As if that statistic was not terrifying enough, the report then announces that when compared with the 49 other countries in the study, South Africa ranks 50th behind the likes of Iran and Kuwait.

PIRLS have found that reading scores have remained stagnant since 2011 and it seems that the scores for South African boys were actually worse in 2016 than the last time reading was measured.

We now have even fewer children achieving “high levels of reading achievement” than we had in 2011.

Considering these facts, we can as a nation, unequivocally say that our education system continues to deteriorate with each passing year. This ignites the fear that our children are only partially educated.

South Africa’s Education System

Our education system has undergone numerous reforms which were carried out as futile attempts to improve the overall situation of the system. These reforms were experimental and have been to the detriment of pupils and teachers alike.

Our government implemented the outcome-based education system which turned out to be nothing short of ineffective and we have watched them successfully close down the colleges where our primary school teachers would have undergone their training.

Furthermore, our department of education has failed to produce high quality technical colleges for our future artisans, engineers and technologists to obtain their education and training. These skills are vitally important as we move through the 21st century.

None of these anomalies have had an impact on the fundamentals of education in our beloved South Africa. It seems as though nothing is being done to drastically (and quickly) improve this dire situation we find ourselves in.

Nic Spaull of Stellenbosch University refers to an earlier (less intensive) study done on the reading abilities of our children.

The study shows that 58% of children show no comprehension of what they are reading. It is no wonder that Nic says that “the reading crisis is deeper than we thought”.

Once we understand that the ability to read and comprehend is imperative in enabling children to achieve in other fields of life, we will understand that this is a true crisis.

The general well-being of the education system is represented by reading abilities. A child who can read fluently in a language class can also read and comprehend texts in a geography or science class.

The ability to connect conceptual ideas to actuality is fostered by the ability to understand what is being read. Making these connections is an essential tool for advanced learning.

Children who are able to read well are more likely to speak fluently and are more confident in other fields of their intellectuality.

When an immense majority of our children cannot read with understanding in the fourth grade, the ripple effects for later learning and comprehension can be momentous for the individual child, for schools and ultimately for society.

A lower pass standard = higher pass rate

In response to the shocking state of our education system, the government repeatedly lowers the required standards instead of increasing them. This has ultimately caused more failure in producing competent matriculants in majority.

At this point, our department of education is solely concerned with producing higher pass rate statistics rather than focusing a higher standard of outcomes, not considering the devastating consequences faced by the student, their family and our economy.

The pass rate for English first language has recently changed from 40% to 30%. It is also apparent that children who have failed by a few points should be progressed regardless.

These changes have not been put into writing as it would be far too embarrassing to have this drop-in standard on black and white.

There is far too much pressure from the higher-ranking politicians to make the schooling system look good, therefore things are quietly discussed between officials to avoid drawing too much unwanted attention to the matter.

We have a government who instructs its departments to do unthinkable injustices to our children in order to preserve their political status.

Who ever may come into power next will be strongly urged to make the standards of our foundation phase education system the very first of their priorities.

The department of basic education will also have to drive and manage a national campaign that is focused on numeracy and literacy. The necessary budgets must be assigned for these campaigns on a national and provincial level.

This campaign should be driven by experts in the fields of reading, mathematics and writing. These experts must have clearly defined targets for performance in these fields which must be met.

Let us forget about how many matriculants we spit out of our schooling system. Let us focus on building healthy, sustainable foundations for our children to build upon.

Without sturdy foundations of learning the rest of the system is weak.

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