Minister Motshekga responds to PIRLS findings with revised National Integrated Reading Plan

The Progress in the International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which assess the milestones in improving reading literacy within the General Education and Training (GET) band, were released during the National Reading Seminar hosted by the DBE, in partnership with the University of Pretoria at the DBE Conference Centre in Pretoria on 16 May 2023. The findings from the Early Learning National Assessment (ELNA) and foundational reading comprehension (Systemic Evaluation) were also announced. The Seminar, chaired by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhuale, created a platform for engagement between various stakeholders, including DBE senior officials, teacher unions, sector partners and scholars from various universities, such as the University of Johannesburg and UNISA. A host of other researchers also joined in on-line.

In her response to the PIRLS findings, Minister Motshega said: “The benchmarking of the South African schooling system at international level has, over the years, been a critical step towards complementing the efforts from the basic education sector towards improving quality learning and teaching in schools. These findings were complemented by initial insights on reading literacy from ELNA in Grade 1 and our national Systemic Evaluation study in Grade 3. These complementary assessment programmes provide us with a comprehensive overview and purposeful measure of reading literacy outcomes. Enhancing learners' ability to read for meaning is a top priority for this administration, aligned with the Presidential Mandate and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, as it forms a crucial cornerstone of Government's educational mandate of providing quality education to all learners across the country, starting from early childhood development up to secondary education”.

“The PIRLS 2021 results indicate a disappointingly low performance, contrasting with our previous participation in other international assessments such as TIMSS and SEACMEQ, which indicated that we were a system on the rise before the impact of COVID-19. Our participation in the first PIRLS assessment in 2006 revealed a challenge: a significant number of children were reaching Grade 4 without acquiring adequate reading comprehension skills.  Between 2009 and 2012, various reforms were implemented to address the challenges in the South African education system, and these efforts have yielded positive results. The DBE Workbook Programme has revolutionised the availability of educational materials in South African classrooms. The Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) have brought clarity and received widespread acceptance across the sector. Additionally, the implementation of the Annual National Assessments from 2011 to 2014 has emphasised the importance of learning outcomes in primary schools and strengthened accountability”.

The ongoing expansion of the Grade R programme has significantly increased educational participation amongst 5 and 6-year-olds over the past two decades; however, we must focus more on the early years of schooling to address the building of adequate reading comprehension skills. We are finalising a revised National Integrated Reading Plan to address the gaps in our approach. The Plan will ensure the provision of a minimum Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) package specifically designed to support reading. The materials will be culturally and age-appropriate, including resources such as alphabet friezes, posters, flashcards, big books, and, most importantly, decodable graded reading books and text passages developed in various African languages to facilitate children's reading acquisition. The plan will expand the implementation of more direct and targeted teacher training and support, emphasising the effective use of the provided materials. The primary focus will be on Home Language Literacy, as children need to learn to read in a language they understand.  The plan will also support English as a First Additional Language to prepare learners for the challenging transition to English as the Language of Learning and Teaching, which typically occurs in Grade 4. A key aspect of the new plan will be to enhance school readiness by improving the quality of ECD provision. The Plan will leverage partnerships and advocacy initiatives to ensure a coordinated effort towards improving reading”.

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