MEC for KZN Education: Mr Kwazi Mshengu
Parents and Learners
It gives me a great sense of pleasure to say a few words on this august occasion, namely the launch of the KwaZulu-Natal Reading Strategy under the able leadership of uBaba uMshengu.
As a country, we have a responsibility to deliver quality education for all, especially the poor. It is a constitutional injunction as well as the apex priority of the governing party, the ANC.
Researchers have concluded that inadequate instruction is the root cause of our reading quagmire, and the rest are just ‘peripherals.’
The KwaZulu-Natal Reading Strategy builds on the existing reading ecosystem on how to address the national reading challenge.
Our National Reading Strategy is grounded on addressing both the root causes and what researchers call the ‘peripherals.’
To us, there are no peripherals, as there’s a piece of strong research evidence to suggest that parents’ involvement in children’s literacy is highly beneficial.
As we understand it, the foundation of any quality basic education is predicated on reading; reading for meaning as well as reading with comprehension.
Reading for meaning, according to researchers, is a research-based strategy that helps all readers build the skills that proficient readers use to make sense of challenging texts.
Regular use of the reading for meaning strategy allows students to practice and master the three phases of critical reading that lead to reading success, including:
- Previewing and predicting before reading.
- Actively searching for relevant information during reading.
- Reflecting on learning after reading.
The second thing we need to get for all learners is what we call reading with comprehension.
According to researchers, reading with comprehension means the understanding and interpretation of what is read.
This means to be able to accurately understand written material, children need to be able to (1) decode what they read;
(2) Make connections between what they read and what they already know, and (3) think deeply about what they have read.
In other words, reading with comprehension means having a sufficient vocabulary or knowing the meanings of enough words.
As they say, only readers who have strong comprehension can draw conclusions about what they read – what is important, what is a fact, what caused an event to happen, which characters are funny?
In simple language, reading with comprehension involves combining reading with thinking and reasoning.
Thus, we say our learners have read with comprehension because they make sense of the written word.
What is South Africa’s Achilles heel in terms of reading?
According to the findings of the (2016) Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that South African learners achieve below expected levels in reading.
The PIRLS study indicates that 78% of South African grade 4 learners do not reach the international benchmarks, and therefore do not have basic reading skills by the end of the grade 4 school year, in contrast to only 4% of learners internationally.
Further, the PIRLS study shows that more than 80% of learners who were tested in an African language could not read for meaning. About 84% of boys could not read for meaning compared to 72% of girls.”
However, the same study, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2016), shows that as a country, we registered a steady improvement between 2011 and 2016.
The PIRLS corrected version points out that there was an improvement of 25 points in reading across the board between 2011 and 2016.
So we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that our basic education system is on a downward spiral.
We are indeed a system on the rise as the Stellenbosch University Education economist Professor Martin Gustafsson says the PIRLS corrected reading score should be considered good.
In fact, Professor Gustafsson concludes that the new score, “makes SA one of the fastest improvers in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study for the period 2011-2016.”
Programme Director, I have decided to harp on this point so that when we criticise the public schooling system; we must do so based on facts, not half-truths, and hearsay from the proverbial Karen from Facebook.
However, even with the corrected score, it is cold comfort because the same study shows that as much as around three-quarters of learners are still not able to reach the minimum benchmark in PIRLS.
The minimum, of course, is reading for meaning.
We as Government have been hard work to find workable strategies for the reading challenges facing the country.
We must move with speed to solve the challenge of lack of reading for meaning, as well as lack of reading with comprehension across the country.
Last year, we took a giant step forward when we launched the National Reading Coalition under the aegis of the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT).
At the launch of the National Reading Coalition, I conceptualised our Achilles heel as our learners’ inability to read for meaning.
Programme Director; the National Reading Coalition (NRC) is a stakeholder-led enterprise that coordinates reading initiatives across the country.
The National Reading Coalition (NRC) is not a new outfit that replaces all micro reading initiatives across the country. Instead, it’s about providing leadership, coordination and evidence-based approaches to the pedagogues of reading.
The National Reading Coalition (NRC) doesn’t replace all micro-reading initiatives. Still, it pulls all of them together as part of a national effort; hence it is housed at the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT).
In our recent Basic Education Lekgotla, we resolved amongst others to continue to strengthen the foundations of learning, particularly in the early grades.
We correctly said that Reading and Mathematics are to become our apex priorities of the Sixth Administration.
After the launch of the National Reading Coalition, and ushering in of the Sixth Administration, post the national elections, we launched the National Reading Plan.
The National Reading Plan was conceptualised and spearheaded by the National Reading Coalition (NRC) together with the Department of Basic Education and all our partners.
The National Reading Plan is an overarching evidence-based strategy that alters the entire reading landscape in our country.
It complements rather than replaces all existing reading initiatives, including the Read to Lead Campaign.
The main thrust of our comprehensive national reading plan is to ensure reading for meaning across the curriculum, in all grades, and in all schools throughout the country.
Our national plan is to ensure that we teach all our learners to read well, and most importantly, to read for meaning as well as to read with comprehension.
By 2024, the plan would have been successfully implemented throughout the public schooling system.
I mean wall-to-wall coverage, circuit by circuit, district by district, and school by school.
This means all teachers would have been trained on the latest reading pedagogies: for non-teachers, that means, we will teach teachers how to teach reading.
All our learners would have been provided with a minimum reading pack for improving reading.
We would have mobilised civil society across the nook and cranny of our country to be part of this reading revolution.
All parents of school-going children form the backbone of this National Reading Plan.
Programme Director; it, therefore, warms my heart that the province of KwaZulu-Natal has joined the national reading ecosystem through a well-thought-out provincial reading strategy.
The KZN Provincial Reading Strategy hits the nail on the head when it characterises the prevailing reading imbroglio as rooted in the rote learning methodologies of yore.
The Strategy extends the analysis of the problem to demonstrate the extent of the crisis: It is clear from the exit examinations that some of the learners end-up failing the examinations in certain content subjects because of poor or lack of comprehension of exam questions.
Furthermore, the Strategy says the focus must be on teacher development and support.
The idea, for the MEC Mshengu’s lead Reading Strategy, is to undo the traditional oratorical reading approach used in the past in favour of reading for meaning as well as reading with comprehension.
The provincial Strategy further calls for a paradigm shift in assessment practices because research shows that currently, oral marks are allocated based on oral reading performance.
In contrast, marks ought to be allocated not based on reading fluency but reading for meaning as well as reading with comprehension.
Programme Director; as explained earlier, the Reading Strategy we are launching today is not a standalone, but part of the national reading ecosystem.
For instance, this province is light ahead of others in embedding the national reading strategy within the local education system.
The KwaZulu-Natal province already has an integrated package and professional support for teachers.
All Foundation Phase teachers in this province have been provided with lesson plans, CAPS Planners and Trackers, graded readers, posters and relevant books in both isiZulu (First Language) and English (First Additional Language).
Furthermore, all Mathematics teachers have also been favoured with lesson plans and CAPS Planners and Trackers as part of improving literacy as well as numeracy as a combo.
Quite correctly, the KZN implementation of the national reading strategy stresses the acquisition of reading, first, in isiZulu as the first language.
The provincial plan provides a structured programme in phonics as well as structured opportunities to read for meaning, with appropriate text, in both isiZulu and English First Additional Language.
In a nutshell, the KZN Provincial Reading Strategy builds on the existing national reading ecosystem and provides for province-specific plans and innovations.
Programme Director; I congratulate this province for taking the issue of reading across the curriculum, in all grades and in all schools to the next level.
Programme Director; what the KZN Reading Strategy does is an excellent way to embed reading across the curriculum, in all grades and all schools, but as a society, we need to play our part.
We must socialise all our learners into becoming life-long readers. We cannot succeed to get the nation reading on our own as Government, that’s because the first real teacher of any child is the parent.
We must support them in their reading for academic purposes, and for knowledge and for enjoyment.
Today, we say to all South Africans in general and people of KwaZulu-Natal in particular that reading is not a portion of education, it is the education.
I thank you.