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Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty, MP, on the Occasion of the 3rd DBE National Spelling Bee South Africa held at UNISA, Kgorong Building, Pretoria, 01 Oct 2016

Spelling Bees and Story Telling: In Support of the Read to Lead Campaign

Greetings to you all and welcome to the 3rd “DBE National Spelling Bee South Africa”, also known as National Spelling Bee Championships!

Programme Director; allow me to recap on why we have this literacy campaign dubbed the National Spelling Bee Championships. The initiative plays a pivotal role in promoting a passion for reading amongst South African learners in the Foundation and Intermediate Phases. This popular concept has spread from its early roots in the United States of America, 90 years ago, to hundreds of countries across the world. It has become a great approach to combining edutainment with the aim of achieving real targets set out to improve the unsatisfactory literacy levels amongst our youth. The key output of the National Spelling Bee Championships can be summarised as:

  • Promoting a love for reading, writing and correct spelling in the Foundation and Intermediate Phases, particularly in the English Language, and
  • Addressing spelling gaps in language of teaching and learning  that cause poor performance;
  • Inculcating the culture of reading as an enjoyable literary activity; and laying a solid foundation for future academic performance.

Programme Director, there is a misconception that spelling bee is about difficult words and the need to learn to spell words correctly. In fact, the spelling bee initiative has a broader objective i.e. to improve literacy level of our learners.  Our end-point is to inculcate the culture of reading. We want parents to read to their children. We want children to become independent enthusiastic readers.

Previous studies have found a positive association of parents reading to their children and the child’s subsequent reading skills, language skills and cognitive development. Research has conclusively proved that children who are read to more frequently at an early age enter school with larger vocabularies and more advanced comprehension skills (Mol. et al, 2011). Reading or telling stories to children have a causal effect in that they in turn do grow up to be readers and storytellers too.

Programme Director; allow me to explain the casual link between spelling correctly and reading. It is inescapable that majority of good spellers are also good readers and writers. To spell well is not just the result of rote learning of hundreds of spelling bee words, which is good for vocabulary building, by the way, but also a product of habitual reading. This is usually evident if a word that is not on the prescribed list, but that the child would have come across when reading, must be spelt. The reading child would either make an educated guess or spell it correctly compared to child who never reads.

In the nutshell, reading opens the door to a child's early academic success, imparts a love of learning and leads to higher grades in every subject as strong oral language skills are the basis for literacy development. When children learn to read at an early age, they have greater general knowledge, expand their vocabulary and become fluent readers. There is enough evidence that indicates that children who have been read to early in their lives, grow up to be readers themselves.

As part of the Integrated National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy: A Whole School Approach, the Department successfully hosted the first National Spelling Bee Championships on the 10th October, 2014, in Pretoria to improve learners' performance in languages, especially in English. Accurate spelling is a laudable goal, and not only because poor spelling is often interpreted as a sign of laziness or a lack of intelligence. Reliance on computer-based spell-checks takes time, requires substantial knowledge to differentiate between plausible spellings, and can be unreliable. A skilled speller is a stronger reader and writer. A teacher can have confidence in affording spelling significant time and space in the literacy curriculum. It is hoped, therefore that this programme will not only, improve the level of literacy in schools, but inculcate a culture of reading and life-long reading broadly.

Research has found that reading storybooks to children is one of the most important activities for developing the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Reading to pre-schoolers has been found to be related to language growth, emergent literacy and reading achievement. (Bus et al. 1995). In addition, reading to children also stimulates them to read books themselves and further develop their cognitive skills (Canoy et al. 2006).


Programme Director, to accelerate the reading revolution, we have launched an ambitious campaign dubbed Read-to-Read. The Read-to-Read campaign is a cradle to grave reading initiative. The overarching vision of the campaign is that a reading nation is a leading nation. This is a four-year campaign to create a national focus to improve the reading abilities of all South African children and adults.  It seeks to provide energy as well as direction and inspiration across all levels of the education system and beyond. These include schools, homes, churches, and malls to name just a few. We are encouraging schools, families and communities to make reading a regular and established part of their daily routine.


We are indeed mindful that the task of educating the nation is a societal and collective effort. In this regard, literacy thus better reading skills have a positive impact on all aspects of living.  There are many benefits to reading. Literacy as an outcome of reading impacts on society in several ways namely, literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing developmental agenda.

Research shows a causal relationship between a literate nation and reduced levels of poverty.  Literate societies have low child mortality, steady population growth, and are likely to achieve gender equality. There is now an established scientific fact that literate societies have higher sustainable economic development, and most likely to enjoy lasting peace and democracy. 

Our programme of action is to ensure that by 2019 all learners are able to demonstrate age appropriate levels of reading.  The campaign is a national response to national, regional and international studies that have shown over a number of years that South African children are not able to read at expected levels, and are unable to execute tasks that demonstrate key skills associated with Literacy.

Getting young people to read and write for school, for leisure, and even in the world of work, is a critical aspect of the development of the social fabric of our country.  We need to ensure that South Africa becomes a reading nation. The department is currently steering the formation of Reading Clubs, Spelling Bee projects as well as Book Flood Campaign throughout the country.

In this regard, I challenge all of you as leaders of young people to start Reading Clubs and register them with your local library and the Basic Education Department.

To conclude, the DBE will continue to strengthen partnerships that will empower all schools, including special schools, to join the Read- to-Lead Campaign to inculcate the culture of reading within the various South African communities.

I herewith convey my sincere gratitude to all the parties who have contributed to making the 2016 National Spelling Bee Championships a success. Good luck to all participants.

I thank you.

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Written By: WebMaster WebMaster
Date Posted: 10/31/2016
Number of Views: 2564

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