Deterioration of SA’s already dismal reading stats

by | May 25, 2023 | Blog

The latest Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) highlighted that 81% of our Grade 4 learners are unable to read for meaning and are more than three years behind their Brazilian peer group. This is a decline from the 78% we scored in the 2016 study.

Whilst others are focused on how to fix the problem in the formal schooling system, we (at Innovation Edge) ask how early does this issue start?

Data from our Thrive by Five Index tells us that of the over 5000 four and five-year-olds in early learning programmes (ELPs), only 54% of the children are on track in emergent literacy and language – the building blocks for reading and comprehension in the foundation phase and beyond. The situation is likely to be worse for children who do not attend quality preschool programmes.

In her address, Department of Basic Education (DBE) Minister Angie Motsheka didn’t clearly articulate how they intend to remediate the situation for these learners but she did make reference to using the Early Learning National Assessment (ELNA) to gain an understanding of how early reading issues start. The ELNA was developed by Innovation Edge in partnership with the DBE. The use of the ELNA will allow the DBE to assess the abilities of learners when they enter Grade 1, instead of relying on the PIRLS being conducted every five years.

Whilst an action plan is deficient at a local level, internationally, the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel by the World Bank is recommending that stakeholders double down on “Smart Buys”, cost-effective interventions that are supported by a strong body of evidence.

Investing in early learning solutions

Their recommendations speak to work done by our partners as well as directly to our investment criteria. We’ve invested in a number of programmes to capacitate caregivers in the home and Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners in ELPs as they are on the frontlines when it comes to young children’s language and literacy acquisition.

The Wordworks app has been designed for parents, caregivers and educators of young children aged birth to five years. The app provides creative ideas and tips to support early learning through everyday activities, including novel ways of introducing early language and literacy.

Finding Thabo is an interactive Where’s Wally-inspired game. It uses Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp chatbots with accompanying pictures to facilitate fun brain-building interactions between caregiver and child.

For early learning practitioners, The Reach Trust team or collaborating organisations deliver a set of A1-size posters of the Finding Thabo pictures to  early learning centres in under-resourced communities. The posters are accompanied by an activity guide that provides a step-by-step process and instructions on how the practitioner should facilitate engagement with a group of children in their classroom.

Hey Dad! is an offline mobile app that provides a selection of hands-on activities – in the areas of maths, science, and literacy – for fathers to do with their young children.

The inequality gap will only widen for children who are not receiving literacy support in their early years. It is incumbent on us as South Africans to use our voices to read to children and advocate for them to get the learning resources that they need.

Author: Adliya van Niekerk – Investment Principal at Innovation Edge