SA Reading Crisis – will it take SA 86 years to read for meaning by age 10?

SA Reading Crisis

At the current trajectory, it is estimated that it will take close to a century for 95% of South Africa’s children to be able to read for meaning by Grade 4.

A startling literacy statistic to consider!

This has been a long-standing issue within the South African education system however, with the Pandemic, the reality is we may have lost a decade’s worth of reading progress as a result which paints a less than rosy picture of a nation in the grip of a reading crisis.

But while the country is in crisis, at KILT, we have different plans for the children of our region.
While the number of children who cannot read has increased nationally, from 78% pre-pandemic to 82% post-pandemic, there is a sense of hope in Knysna, as KILT works tirelessly to make sure this is not the case for our children.

During COVID-19 KILT-affiliated schools not only did not decline, or even retain their reading levels, , but they actually improved significantly. Vulnerable children who were in danger of falling behind and who hardly attended school in 2020 and 2021 , actually improved dramatically in reading competence due to our Remedial and Accelerated Learning Support Project. This initiative benefited around 555 children in 2021, 996 in 2022, and approximately 919 in 2023!

Let’s look at a comparative analysis of how KILT’s targeted Remedial and Accelerated Learning Support Project has impacted the children on Knysna:

In SA as a whole 50% of children in no-fee schools do not learn the letters of the alphabet by the end of Grade 1. 

However, in KILT-partnered schools, the numbers are quite different. At the end of 2021, 81% of the learners in our reading and remedial support programmes have improved in their word recognition scores.

There is currently no National Reading Plan and no national budget for improving home-language reading.

However in our schools the numbers are quite different. There are 3 programmes that focus specifically on improving the reading abilities of these children; as well as a programme which provides extra training for teachers on how to teach reading more effectively.

KILT has invested more than R10 million on Remedial programmes in the 13 KILT partnered primary schools to date.

Experts agree that learning within the Foundation Phase is an essential building block to later success. Our partners have developed four targeted support structures to give the youngest children the best possible start to their school careers.

In Grade R and 1: Mind Moves

This Reading Readiness Programme provides a structured, multi-sensory approach to developing pre-reading skills. The model stimulates the child’s auditory abilities before being exposed to the visual code and it also includes physical development, which engages the sensory-motor system for brain development. In addition to the enriched input, which remediates the lack of early stimulation experienced by the young children, an added benefit is the upskilling of teachers. This programme was available to all our primary schools in 2022.

In Grade 1: Remedial Support Assistants

Grade 1 can be challenging, particularly as many children enter into Grade 1 without prior schooling and adequate preparation. However, training in phonics and numeracy programmes, with the help of remedial support assistants, reduces the number of children who struggle as they move through the grades.

In Grade 2: Support

Grade 2 children are supported further with desk charts which we find very effective. Within the isi-Xhosa schools, a focused phonics-based programme for children in Grades 1 to 3 will ensure a solid foundation of literacy as they move to the Intermediate Phase, where English becomes the medium of instruction.

Phonics apps on tablets give great support along with oversight by a trained facilitator.

In Grade 3: Reading with Comprehension

The initiative aims to help children enrich their vocabulary, strengthen their thinking skills, and increase reading fluency and comprehension. Skilled facilitators work intensively with the children and involve parents to provide the necessary support at home.

We found that children could achieve significant improvement in a short space of time which built their self-confidence and fostered a belief that they could do better. This programme has been successful at nine primary schools in the greater Knysna area in 2021. In 2023 it is being presented at 10 primary schools.

Grade 4: Remedial Support

KILT also provides Grade 4 Classroom Assistants as teaching moves away from mother tongue as the language of instruction. Adding a trained facilitator in the classroom immediately reduces the teacher-to-learner ratio, improves discipline and engagement, and allows the teacher to teach more effectively.
The assistant enables struggling children to gain confidence and enjoy learning as a positive experience.

The Gr 4 Remedial Support Programme is currently implemented in eight primary schools and reaches about 256 learners. We regard parents as an essential element in successfully implementing these programmes and we actively engage them to ensure positive outcomes for their children.

So what needs to change for us to ensure that all our country’s children learn to read?

We need to replicate and roll out more programmes just like this that significantly and statistically improve reading outcomes in SA for all our children!

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