Gustafsson said there was an error in the International Reading Literacy Study programme which claimed that grade 4 learners had made no improvement in reading between 2011 and 2016.
“These tests are administered to samples of learners in South Africa and in other countries and the aim is to see whether there’s improvement over time.”
Although Gustafsson has proven that there was an error in the findings, he said South Africa’s literacy rate is still weak at a primary level but more improvements will eventually be seen over time.
Lecturer at Wits University, Dr Lindiwe Tshuma said when learners reach grade 4, they go through a ‘transition year’ where they experience changes in the way that school content is taught to them.
From grade 4 onwards, learners experience a change in the Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT). This happens particularly when it comes to learners switching between their mother tongue and other languages such as English and Afrikaans.
Learners who transition from learning in their mother tongues to learning in English are called English Language Learners (ELLs). Tshuma says these learners make up 90% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa’s public schools.
Poorer communities do not have access to the right resources and skilled teachers who can make the transition smooth for learners, but communities that have the right resources do not face the same struggle.
“In well-resourced communities, there is no change in the LoLT as pupils’ mother tongues are either English or Afrikaans.”
Tshuma advised parents to read storybooks to their children and to create an environment where their children can focus on their schoolwork.
“Learners who are exposed to storybook reading early develop a wider vocabulary, have better background knowledge and better language and conceptual development; learn to read and write more easily and quickly than their peers who have not been exposed to books or reading”.
One goal in the National Development Plan 2030 is to get all children by the age of 10 to read with comprehension.
The Department of Basic Education has encouraged parents to create a culture of reading in their homes and in their communities to help this goal become a reality.
The more you understand yourself, the more silence there is, the healthier you are. —Maxime Lagacé