The Millennium Development Goals aimed to achieve universal access to primary education by 2015. Attendance rates in South Africa remain high, with 97% of children attending school, yet most children are still not acquiring basic skills. While the number has been increasing in recent years,only 57% of a cohort will pass matric and about 21% will qualify to go to
university. Stark differences exist between the wealthiest 25% of schools and the vast majority of schools serving largely poor Black students, and these deficits are already entrenched early on in the foundation phase. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have a strong focus on reducing inequalities and aim to address issues of access and quality across the life course. This essay argues that, in order to address these deep-rooted challenges in the South African schooling system, we need a concerted prioritisation of learning to read. Drawing on the latest evidence, the essay identifies low levels of reading proficiency as one of the root causes of poor schooling outcomes and goes on to suggest potential solutions. It makes the case by addressing the following questions:
• Why does reading matter?
• How many of South Africa’s children are learning to read?
• By what age should children learn to read?
• Why are so many children not learning to read?
• What has been done to improve reading in the past?
• What reading initiatives are currently underway?
• What is the way forward?

Spaull, N & Hoadley, U. (2017) Getting Reading Right In: Jamieson L, Berry L & Lake L (eds) South African Child Gauge 2017. Cape Town, Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.