‘Pupils are reading too slowly’

The 2013 plan to introduce a compulsory indigenous language in schools has hit a number of snags.

This was the startling research presented on Monday at an education research conference, which stressed the importance of children acquiring basic reading skills in Grades one to three.

“Grade 5 is much too late,” research co-author Nic Spaull said.

“About half of the Grade 5 sample are reading so slowly they do not understand anything they are reading,” Spaull said.

The conference, hosted by the Research on Socio-Economic Policy (Resep) unit of Stellenbosch University, was funded by the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development – a partnership between the South African presidency and the EU.

It brought together policymakers and influential education researchers from all over the country.

The study co-authored by Spaull explored oral reading fluency using data from the 2013 report of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (Needu).

The research explored the relationship between oral reading fluency and comprehension among rural, English second language-speaking pupils in South Africa.

The existing literature on reading fluency (defined in terms of accuracy and speed in word recognition), has been found to be a reliable indicator of reading comprehension.

Spaull, who is an education researcher with Stellenbosch University, said South African children were not learning to read, and so were not reading to learn.

By Grade 4, children should be making the transition from learning to read, to reading to learn.

Spaull pointed to earlier education data – the influential Sacmeq studies – to drive home the dire state of reading in South African classrooms.

The 2000 Sacmeq results had shown that only 18% of Grade 6s were reading at a desirable level of mastery (guaranteed to succeed during the next year of schooling).

About 65% of children landed below the minimum level of reading mastery (which meant they would barely survive the next year of schooling).

The results of the 2007 Sacmeq had shown only 22% of children were reading at a desirable level of mastery. In the Eastern Cape, this figure was 7%. About 56% were below the minimum level of reading mastery.

The 2013 Needu report revealed that 11-year-olds in rural areas were being taught to parrot-read, and wrote too little. The consequence was that 22% of the children in the Needu sample were considered illiterate, and Grade 5 pupils could only manage 4 out of 20 on a comprehension test.

In investigating language in rural classrooms, the Needu evaluators found the problems pupils experienced when the switch was made to English in Grade 4 were more pronounced than in urban schools. Most schools did not seem to understand the importance of reading books for pupils, and few subject advisers and senior teachers considered listening to pupils’ reading important.

“Thus the most fundamental capacity to be learned in primary schools – reading with comprehension – is left unmonitored in the majority of schools,” the report lamented.

The investigators said the pace of lessons was “painfully slow”, and children were “being socialised into passive recipients”. Children were not being developed into seekers of knowledge, but are “taught to wait patiently while the authority figure doles out meagre quantities of activities to stimulate them”.


– This story appeared on IOL and can be found at this link.