Whopping low reading literacies in South Africa

are we surprised? lessons from Limpopo province

  • Samuel Maredi Mojapelo University of South Africa


Reading is a dynamic and complex process which takes years for learners to learn. Without the acquisition of reading skills for comprehension and decoding, it is near impossible for learners to proceed successfully with further learning. Studies show that learners without skills to read for meaning cannot continue with their studies and, therefore, drop out of school. The results from the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) paint an extremely gloomy picture, namely, that the ability of learners in Grades 4 to 6 in South Africa to read for meaning has deteriorated to 81% from 78% in the 2016 PIRLS, the lowest of all countries that participated in the survey. The purpose of this study was to investigate the factors causing South African learners to perform abysmally in the PIRLS and Annual National Assessments. The study adopted a qualitative research approach, and an interview schedule was used to collect data. Eight primary school teacher-librarians who attended the community engagement project organised by the researcher were interviewed telephonically to get in-depth data. The findings indicate that there are myriad and multifaceted factors that contribute to low reading literacies among learners. The majority of schools, particularly those in disadvantaged rural communities, lack well-resourced and staffed libraries to enhance the development and acquisition of reading habits and skills in learners. Furthermore, with high poverty levels in the country, the majority of households cannot afford to buy materials for leisure reading to develop and instill a reading culture in children. The study recommends collaborations among the Department of Basic Education, the Department of Arts and Culture and private sector companies to turn the tide. Failure to transform the patterns would result in high dropout rate, failure rate, and even unemployment rate, as well as crime rate in the future.
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