13% of Grade 2 pupils in South Africa cannot read a single word

Dr Nick Taylor - head of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit
Dr Nick Taylor – head of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit


Dr Nick Taylor has called South Africa’s literacy levels a national catastrophe and a disaster for the country and future economic growth. Speaking at the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) breakfast, Dr Taylor revealed some alarming statistics about the country literacy levels and appealed to government to do something about it.  Dr Nick Taylor, the head of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (Needu) at the Department of Education, has has called on government to make reading a national priority.

On average a grade 2 pupils should have the capability and literacy level of reading between 60 – 70 words per minute, however research has shown that this is not the case in schools in South Africa. In addition, pupils that progress to grade 5 are continue to struggle and are falling even further behind their classmates.


Shocking Revelations

Research done by Needu has revealed some alarming and highly disturbing facts that there are students that are unable to even read a single word. Research results show that roughly 13% of pupils could read a single word from a simple test that was given to them. Grade 5 pupils on average, are reading about 80 – 90 words per minute. According to Dr Taylor the current literacy level in country are a national catastrophe and disaster.

In other report and studies undertaken by Needu has revealed that the country’s education system is failing due to the fact that teachers are unable  or qualified to teach and they did not have a rasp of the curriculum.  If teachers do not know what the curriculum is about, then how are they capable of teaching or allowed to teach. The only individuals who will suffer are the pupils themselves through no fault of their own and the chances of succeeding at school or as adults does not look promising.

The Needu research was conducted in 133 schools around the country. The question coming out of the studies and research is that if pupils are not able to read by grade 5, then the Department of Basic Education, government, and President Zuma need to answer is what are teachers doing? What is government doing about this national disaster and failure of the education system? What are school management teams and school principals doing about student assessments? Where are the parents or guardians of these children doing about their children who are unable to read?

Dr Taylor asked “How can they allow the children to be far behind after five years? Are they not watching them?”

The studies reveals that schools and teachers are devoting too much time to group reading instead of assigning more time to individual reading. Pupils also showed evidence that they are unable to succeed and struggle with comprehension tests given to them.


Scarcity of books in schools

The studies also revealed an alarming fact that the majority of foundational classes in the 133 schools lacked an efficient number of books. There were only 2 or 3 books available to read over the course of 1 year. At this level, pupils should be reading at least one or two books every week. If there are not enough books to read, how can you expect or blame the pupils for not being able to read. The government should be held directly accountable for this national sister given the fat that they are responsible for the the education of all citizens of South Africa.

Dr Taylor stated that school leaders and management should monitor student performance and has pleaded with teacher unions to address the quality of teaching.

Apart from the  Department of Education and Government, parents and guardians also need to accept part of the blame and responsibility for the literacy levels of their children and at our schools and need to get involved in their children’s education and assist them. However, it is the primary responsibility of the schools to make sure that pupils can read independently by Grade 2.

Basil Manuel, the president of Naptosa, stated that children should read anything that is available to them even if it food packaging labels on cereal boxes in order to grasp and improve their basic language skills.


Contact details:

For any comments and/or feedback, feel free to contact The Presidency or the Department of Basic Education.

President Zuma at The Presidency – CLICK HERE

Minister Angie Motshekga at Department of Basic Education – CLICK HERE


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