The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is as prone as anyone else to exaggerating for effect. Yet, we could not argue when it demanded that a “national education disaster committee” be set up to do something about the newest evidence that our education system is failing.
The latest results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) are more than worrying, they are horrifying, particularly if one looks to the future. The report found that 78% of South African Grade 4 students are unable to read for meaning. This means they could not reach the lowest international Pirls benchmark.
The report explained: “They could not locate and retrieve explicitly stated information or make straightforward inferences about events and reasons for actions.”
The comparable figure is 4% in the United States and 3% in England. Although these are First World countries, South Africa was up against other middle-income nations… but we still finished last out of 50 countries surveyed for reading skills.
The study shows there has been no real improvement in reading skills in South Africa since 2011. A country whose people are illiterate – and these kids will be at a huge disadvantage for the rest of their lives in reading – is a country which is not only hobbled when it comes to technological progress, but is also a country where slick demagogues and liars can peddle their alluring untruths. If you lack reading skills, you also lack the ability in logic which comes from reading.
A huge chunk of the blame must be laid at the door of the government, because it plays political games with schools while neglecting the basic tenets of education. But, we as a society – and in particular as parents – also need to realise it is our job to foster a culture of reading.