“If you are reading this sentence it means that somewhere, somehow, you learnt to read. Bravo! …It is really quite remarkable that a few scrawles on a page can make us weep with joy or seethe with rage as we engage with heroes, villains and ideas of bygone or future eras. Imagine what your life would be like if you could not read.”
This poignant question was posed by ReSEP researcher, Nic Spaull, in the latest issue of the Mail and Guardian. The sad response that he gives to this question is that thousands of South African children do not have to imagine this: the 2011 PrePirls survey found that in the 50% of worst performing schools, one in every two grade four children were completely illiterate.
He explains that “children who cannot read properly by grade four are severely disadvantaged, because they cannot read fluently or read for meaning, and therefore cannot benefit much from higher grades. This places them in perpetual catch-up mode until they begin to approach matric and drop out of school in grade 10 and 11, as 50% of South African students do.”
Spaull bemoans the lack of systematic evidence about the efficacy of current education programs, and stresses that a national reading strategy that is based on scientific evidence is of fundamental importance to the country.
“We simply must ensure that every child timeously acquires that magical skill of translating scribbles into language. Our education system depends on it.”