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How bad is South Africa’s education system?

Neelam Rahim |

2-minute read
23 June 2023 | 21:41 CAT

Sandton, South Africa – February 1, 2019: Nal’ibali, a South African reading initiative attempts to break their previously set World Record, by reaching 1.5 Million children on World Read Aloud Day. Children from across South Africa took part in various events in schools and libraries. The main event, saw hundreds of children reading with author and activist, Lebohang Masango, who gave a multilingual reading at the Sandton Library in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: DANIEL BORN for NAL’IBALI

Amidst plummeting temperatures as winter approaches, warnings of stage 8 load shedding, yet another interest rate hike, and failing water infrastructure resulting in a deadly cholera outbreak – to mention just a few recent calamities – South Africans desperately need some good news.

However, this is South Africa, and the good news is currently in short supply. The country’s citizenry greeted the news of the recently released Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) with weary resignation. The global study assesses the literacy rate of grade four learners in 42 countries. In South Africa, the test was administered in all 11 languages.

The results are, frankly, appealing. In 2021, 81/ of grade 4’s could not read for meaning or answer basic questions on the content they had read, even though it was in their home language. While South Africa’s literacy rate has never been good, we have sunk to new lows in the latest study, ranking the lowest out of all the countries assessed. In 2016, the previous study conducted, 78/ of children in grade 4 could not read for meaning, indicating that our literacy rate has declined since then.

CEO of School-Days, Paul Esterhuizen, told Radio Islam International significantly it was established that English and Afrikaans language school scores were above the global averages against which they were tested. At the same time, the African languages scored lower than the global areas.

According to Esterhuizen, the direction of the stats raises the question, is South Africa having a generational crisis looming?

“Children cannot learn if they cannot read.
Statistics before Covid have revealed poor performance from matric students,” Esterhuizen said.

Moving forward, Esterhuizen said the first step in solving the crisis is acknowledging and recognising that the problem exists.

Instead of standing back, we need to get involved and start by ensuring that schools meet their budget and encourage teachers to continue teaching, starting with parents getting involved.

Listen to the full interview on Your World Today with host Annisa Essack.


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