CNS reporter
2 minute read
4 Jan 2019
12:22 pm

Foundation phase reading crisis a national emergency, says Equal Education

CNS reporter

Equal Education says that the ‘narrow preoccupation’ with matric results deters attention from focusing on the foundation phase, a fundamental phase of a child’s schooling career.

Children must be taught to read for comprehension, not just to parrot what they hear. Shutterstock

While many learners, parents and schools recently celebrated the matric results for 2018, Equal Education (EE) stated that the annual matric pass rate announcement is misleading and puts forward ‘a poor indication of the overall health of the basic education system’, reports Randburg Sun.

In their media statement, EE highlighted that the ‘narrow preoccupation’ with matric results deters attention from focusing on the fundamental phase of a child’s schooling career – the foundation phase which begins at Grade R and continues through to Grade 3.

According to the EE, these schooling years are life-altering for South Africa’s learners, as these are the foundation to build upon for later grades.

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“Despite some improvements in basic education, it is criminal that we have not been able to solve the early grade reading crisis,” their statement read.

“The consequence of a weak foundation phase is weak academic outcomes in high school – and the consequence of that is that many learners never reach matric, or attain a tertiary qualification. There is no skill more crucial to acquire in the foundation phase than learning to read for meaning, and to count.”

South Africa has improved in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) assessments between 2002, 2011 and 2015 – emerging as the fastest-improving country in Grade 9 maths and science, according to EE.

However, they highlight that foundation phase teachers need better pre-service training and existing teachers need to be upskilled.

“The learning backlogs that develop and deepen in the early years of schooling, are a major contributor to learners dropping out of school. Keeping learners in school and ensuring that they leave school with a meaningful qualification, remains one of the key challenges in South Africa’s public education system.

“It remains absurd that the [Department of Basic Education] has insisted on ranking provinces in terms of matric pass rates each year. This annual announcement, based on the traditional pass rate, not only fails to consider learner dropout rates, but it also ignores the immense contextual disparities between rural and urban provinces.”

Despite these issues, however, EE does acknowledge that for the first time, South African Sign Language was included as a home language in the 2018 matric exams.

They also acknowledged that passing matric is an outstanding achievement for each learner. “We commend the diligence and perseverance of the Class of 2018, their teachers, and their parents … Improving the quality of education provided to learners, particularly at the foundation phase, in South Africa’s public schools is essential to ensuring that our youth can realise their aspirations.”

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