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Early grade reading must be national priority – education expert
Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]
Published: 01/08/2018

​​The problem of primary school learners who can't read should be declared a national crisis and requires not only to be a national priority but also significant resources.

This was one of the viewpoints of Dr Nic Spaull from the research group on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSEP) in the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University on Tuesday (31 July 2018). He was the speaker at the second Stellenbosch Forum Lecture of 2018. The Stellenbosch Forum lecture series provides regular opportunities to staff and students at SU, as well as interested people from the public, to learn more about the relevant, world-class research that is being done at SU.

Highlighting the dire situation of learner's reading skills, Spaull pointed out that “78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language."

 “The fact that children do not learn to read for meaning in any language by the end of Grade 3 is a problem for the economy, for civic engagement; it's a problem for anything you could possibly think of – healthcare, access, being an informed citizen."

“If you can't read for meaning in any language in the first three years of school, you literary fall further and further behind the curriculum."

Spaull pointed to new research which shows that 45% of Grade 4 classes in South Africa schools do not have a single learner who can read or make basic inferences.

He said this is happening despite the fact that the curriculum is structured in such a way that first three years of school are the learning-to-read phase and from Grade 4 onwards is the reading-to-learn phase where learners use the skill of reading to acquire new information.

Spaull referred to schools where Grade 4 learners can't read as “cognitive waste zones".

He called for much bolder and radical policy interventions in these schools to improve the reading skills of learners.

“Every child should read for meaning by the age of 10. This is not a particularly ambitious goal and is definitely realisable and measureable."

“The current trajectory we're on, the current equilibrium we're in the South African education system is not the only one; there are more equitable and fairer ones," Spaull added.

  • Photo: Dr Nic Spaull delivers the second Stellenbosch Forum Lecture.