Research: Over 80% of Grade 4 students in South Africa struggle to read
According to an international study published on Tuesday, eight out of ten South African schoolchildren struggle to read well by the age of ten.
According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) conducted in the United States, it was revealed that 81 percent of fourth-grade students in South Africa, who are between the ages of nine and ten, struggle with understanding what they read.
The study shows a decline in reading ability in South Africa's most industrialized nation, with the percentage of children facing reading difficulties increasing from 78 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2021, the most recent year examined.
A comprehensive investigation was conducted, evaluating 400,000 students from 57 countries worldwide. South Africa ranked the lowest, achieving 288 points compared to the international average of 500, while Singapore achieved the highest score of 587 points.
Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed disappointment with the test results during an education conference in Pretoria on Tuesday. She highlighted that reading literacy scores were particularly low, emphasizing that many primary schools in South Africa primarily focus on oral performance, neglecting reading comprehension and understanding written words.
The minister attributed the setbacks in primary education improvement to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government's program to enhance primary education was hampered as schools in South Africa were closed for approximately a year to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In February, a panel established by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, which convenes annually to promote childhood literacy, concluded that the pandemic had undone a decade's worth of progress in reading outcomes.
Out of the participating African countries, South Africa, along with Morocco and Egypt, is one of only three countries involved in the PIRLS assessment, which monitors global trends in literacy and comprehension.
South Africa's underperformance can be traced back to the educational inequalities fostered by the apartheid regime, which implemented policies that segregated schools.
Despite education being one of the largest expenses in the government's budget under the democratic system, the results often prove to be disappointing. The education crisis is exacerbated by insufficient reading materials in schools and, in some cases, inadequate infrastructure such as toilets.