‘13% of pupils can’t read a word of English’

2013-10-22 00:00

THE head of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (Needu) at the Department of Education, Dr Nick Taylor, has called for reading to become a national priority.

An average Grade 2 pupil should read about 60 to 70 words per minute, but that is not the case for pupils at most schools.

As the pupils progress to Grade 5, studies show that some fall even further behind.

Taylor was speaking at the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa breakfast in Durban yesterday.

“The really disturbing thing about this is the number of learners who cannot read a single word.

“About 13% could read not a single word of that little test that we gave them in English. Now that is really, deeply disturbing,” he added.

He said few Grade 5s are reading at 80 to 90 words per minute.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is a national catastrophe,” he added.

Early this year, Needu released a damning report that revealed that the country’s failing education system was embedded in teachers who can’t teach and largely did not have a grasp of the curriculum, which is the fundamental problem.

Their research was based on 133 schools they visited in the country, including 13 in KwaZulu-Natal.

“If the children are not learning to read by Grade 5, then what are teachers doing and what are the school management teams in those schools doing about assessing where the children are?

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

The report states that too much time was spent on group and shared reading instead of individual reading and pupils also battle to answer comprehension tests.

He said they found in the majority of foundational classes that there were two or three available books to read over the whole year, and said children at this level should read a book or two a week at least. “No wonder they can’t learn to read. There are not enough books. That’s a major problem.”

He said school leaders should monitor pupils and pleaded with teacher unions to address the issue.

Taylor said the role of parents was also key in assisting children to read. However, he said the school was primarily responsible to see that pupils can read independently by Grade 2.

Naptosa president Basil Manuel said children should be encouraged to read anything, including food packaging such as cereal boxes, to improve their grasp of language.

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