Eight in 10 South African children struggle to read by the age of 10
A study found that eight out of ten South African schoolchildren struggled to read before the age of 10.
South Africa was ranked the last country out of the 57 countries evaluated in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study which tested the ability to read of 400,000 global students in 2021.
The percentage of South African children who are illiterate has increased from 78% to 81%.
The education minister of the country blamed the school closings on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Describing the results as “disappointingly low”, Angie Motshekga also said the country’s education system was faced with significant historical challenges, including poverty, inequality, and inadequate infrastructure.
She added that in many primary schools, “reading instruction is often focused solely on orality and neglects reading comprehension and understanding written words”.
The study showed that 81% of South African children could not read for comprehension in any of the country’s 11 official languages.
Alongside Morocco and Egypt, South Africa was one of only three African countries which participated in the assessments to monitor trends in literacy and reading comprehension of nine- and 10-year-olds.
Based on tests taken every five years at the end of the school year, the new study places countries in a global education league table.
Singapore secured the top spot in the rankings with an average score of 587, while South Africa ranked last with 288 points – below second-last Egypt’s average of 378. The scores are benchmarked against an international average of 500.
The study also showed that overall, girls were ahead of boys in their reading achievement in nearly all of the assessed countries, but the gender gap has narrowed in the most recent testing round.
South Africa’s struggles with its education system are longstanding, with significant inequality between black and white students as a consequence of the segregation of children under apartheid.
Education is one of the single biggest budget expenses for the government, which can lead to disappointment over poor performance in studies like this.
A lack of suitable reading materials and inadequate infrastructure in schools, often things like toilets, have contributed to the crisis.