Creating reading fluency benchmarks in African languages

Author(s): Nic Spaull , Elizabeth Pretorius, Nompumelelo Mohohlwane

Learning to read for meaning is the most important skill that children learn in primary school. If a child cannot read well, then they will not be able to do well in any subject at school; they will not be able to pass matric or get a well-paying job. Reading is the skill that all other skills depend on. In South Africa, more than 70% of children learn to read in an African language (usually their home language) in Grades 1–3 before switching to English in Grade 4 until matric. Local and international research shows that it is best if a child first learns to read in their home language and then learns to read in another language, rather than trying to learn in a language they do not speak or understand. So the most important thing is to ensure all children learn to read in their home language in Grades 1–3. New research that was published in 2017 reported on the reading outcomes of learners in a nationally representative sample of primary schools (293 schools). They assessed the reading competencies of children in whatever language their school used in Grades 1–3, i.e. they assessed all 11 South African languages. They found that 78% of Grade 4 children could not read for meaning in any language (PIRLS 2016).

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