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).
Learner flows through schools: Using high quality administrative data to understand education system performance
The report analyses school flows, repetition, and dropout using a novel analysis of school-based assessments, and how well these predict future performance and learner flows. An important finding is that the high repetition and dropout rates in high schools imply an internal efficiency rate of only 49% (measured in terms of the years of enrolment in high school for every matric pass).
How basic education has improved in the Western Cape in the past six years
Repetition is a serious problem in South Africa, and the Western Cape is no exception. In any given year between 2007 and 2019, repetition has ranged between 72,000 and 100,000, with notable enrolment bulges in grades 1, 4, 9 and 10. An important consequence of repetition—when not cancelled by dropout—is an increase in the proportion of children who are older than what would be considered appropriate for a particular grade. For example, at least a third of grade 12 learners in 2019 were overage.
Learner flow through patterns in the Western Cape using CEMIS datasets from 2007 to 2019: A longitudinal cohort analysis
Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP01/2021
Publication date: February 2021