'Democracy is in trouble if our children cannot read with comprehension'

Over the last week, South Africans were faced with an unsettling truth regarding the educational system in South Africa. In a comparative study among 50 countries, South Africa placed last in the measurement of the reading skill set of Grade 4 learners.

This new found information points to a massive crisis in the country as the economy and social setup could be implicated.

In the discussion around the literacy debate, 702/CapeTalk host Eusebius McKaiser voiced his opinion by indicating that the young are being set up for guaranteed failure. He added that democracy in itself is in trouble if our children cannot read with comprehension.

Director of Research at the Department of Basic Education Stephen Taylor spoke to McKaiser about some concerns and possible solutions in the matter.

Taylor says that the results are both concerning and disappointing. He adds that reading is a gateway to other forms of learning.

Early reading outcomes are strongly predictive of later education outcomes like getting to matric.

Stephen Taylor, Director of Research at the Department of Basic Education

If we really want social and economic transformation, we need to get to the heart of the issue and lay the proper foundations through early grade reading, says Taylor. He adds that the study does mostly include the global north countries.

78% of South African grade 4 children failed to reach the international benchmark, in Morocco that was 64% and in Egypt it was 69%.

Stephen Taylor, Director of Research at the Department of Basic Education

Taylor says that based on the study's results, South Africa is not unique. He adds that other African countries also have serious problems.

Many developing countries in the world have problems with reading, says Taylor. It’s not like we are the very worst in the world when you include countries that don’t participate in the study, he adds.

He says it is worth mentioning that the trend has not been flat, and there seems to be the sense that there are some crises now and things have gotten worse - but there’s no evidence of that.

If we look at between 2006 and 2011 there actually does seem to be an improvement.

Stephen Taylor, Director of Research at the Department of Basic Education

Listen to the Executive Director Naptosa, Basil Manuel on the different stakeholders in the education sector here...


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