South Africa converge on literacy problems

South African Educational Expert, Mary Metcalfe. Photo: SABC

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (ADV) – South African Educational Expert, Mary Metcalfe has noted that lack of access to reading material and textbooks are the main reasons that 78 percent of South African grade three learners still cannot read for meaning.

However, she said this ‘national literacy crisis’ can be fixed but it will take time and hard work.

Metcalfe was speaking at her three-day-lecture named the South Africa’s School Crisis, at the University of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province recently.

She said although the National Planning Commission’s National Development Plan highlights education as one of the country’s nine most pressing challenges, and commits to improving the quality of education for all the country’s children by 2030, not nearly enough progress has been made.

“An education system has the responsibility to deliver two essential things for a just society: improve the quality of learning and narrow the gap between students doing well and students doing badly,” said Metcalfe.

“Education improvement is a long, hard process and expectations of a sudden shift are unrealistic.”

Metcalfe mentioned that the government continues to spend billions on education. She noted that in 2018, R351 billion was spent on education. But she said only 29% percent of the poorest primary schools in the country have access to in-school libraries.

A 2015 study conducted by Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMMS) showed that 65% of grade 5 pupils in the country could not add and subtract whole numbers.

According to Metcalfe, KwaZulu-Natal province has been the hardest hit. In the province, only 45.4 percent of pupils have their own reading textbooks and 50.1 percent have their own mathematics textbooks.

In the Eastern Cape Province, only 56.2 percent of pupils have their own reading textbooks and 57.2% have their own mathematics textbooks. Limpopo province is marginally better with 58.9 percent of pupils have their own reading textbooks, while 62.4 percent have their own mathematics textbooks.

“Change is possible. We must focus on improving literacy and numeracy levels in the first four years of schooling. This must be programmatic, properly resourced, reach every teacher who needs it and have clear indicators for success in both implementation and outcomes,” said Metcalfe.

Metcalfe argued that the answer to improving education is not that complex. She said it lies in establishing sound policy ideas, and ensuring institutions are strong enough to deliver them.

“Change depends on accessing the energy of all those who can create and unblock blockages and build a coalition for change.

“The impetus for change is sustained by the belief that it is necessary, and is possible through ongoing commitment,” she said.

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