tame Times Fresh Approach to local news
Glendower
Glendower
R65m to show how poorly our Grade 4s read

R65m to show how poorly our Grade 4s read

SA’s participation in an international study assessing pupils’ ability to read with meaning has cost R65m.

These figures, released publicly for the first time, are contained in a document titled “Setting reading benchmarks in South Africa”, which was published on the basic education department’s website on November 5.

According to the document, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) assessments in 2011 and 2016 cost about R20m and R45m respectively.

The Pirls test, administered every five years by the Netherlands-based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, provides comparative data on how well children in a certain grade can read, assessing whether this standard improves, remains stagnant or gets worse.

According to the Centre for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA) at the University of Pretoria, which has been responsible for administering the Pirls study locally since 2006, the department of basic education contributed more than half of the funds for the 2016 study, while the CEA and the University of Pretoria paid the balance.

The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, told Sunday Times Daily that Grade 4 and 6 pupils from about 300 schools are expected to participate in Pirls 2021.

Based on figures on the IEA website, the department will be expected to pay R4m for just the participation cost if it chooses to take part in the paper-only version of the Pirls assessment in 2021. This excludes the costs of, among other things, fieldworker recruitment, training and data collection.

We do see growth in the percentages of children who can engage in basic reading skills, but the increase in percentages of learners who can engage in higher-order reading skills one would expect to be in place (or that show potential for further development) do not show growth.

CEA director Surette van Staden

Countries participating in that year’s study include the US, Australia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Russia and New Zealand.

The 2016 Pirls results revealed that 78% of Grade 4 pupils did not meet minimum comprehension standards and higher-order questions were beyond the reach of most of them.

Though SA’s Grade 4 pupils were placed last out of 50 countries in the test, Prof Martin Gustafsson from Stellenbosch University subsequently found, after conducting a series of analyses, that there was an improvement of 25 points in SA pupils’ reading competence between 2011 and 2016 that researchers had missed.

But the CEA’s director, Surette van Staden, said that despite the improvement Grade 4 children’s ability to engage in reading with understanding is nowhere near international patterns.

“We do see growth in the percentages of children who can engage in basic reading skills, but the increase in percentages of learners who can engage in higher-order reading skills one would expect to be in place (or that show potential for further development) do not show growth.”

She said they had reliable evidence of Grade 4 pupils’ ability to retrieve and repeat from text, a skill that is expected from much earlier grades.

“But the ability to engage with text meaningfully at an abstract level of making inferences, interpreting and integrating ideas and events is largely absent.”

In a report on the 2016 Pirls results, the CEA mentioned that the decision to continue with the Pirls studies in 2016 was partly also informed by the fact that there were few external studies of educational quality on the same scale as Pirls.

“Furthermore, Umalusi [the matric quality assurance body] reported that the National Senior Certificate exams were revealing concerning evidence of learners at grade 12 level being unable to comprehend questions and formulate even short responses to questions.”

The department has admitted that reading was poorly taught in the early grades at school.

The ability to engage with text meaningfully at an abstract level of making inferences, interpreting and integrating ideas and events is largely absent.

CEA director Surette van Staden

Meanwhile, the “Setting reading benchmarks in South Africa” report stated that though CAPS [Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement] provides examples of different types of comprehension questions that can be asked, “very little support is provided as to what counts as acceptable comprehension levels”.

“In South Africa, many teachers would regard 60% as a good reading comprehension score, while reading research suggests that 60% for comprehension signals a reader in need of additional support.”

The report stated that except for the vocabulary norms, the normative reading framework in CAPS is focused far more on the teaching of reading instruction and little is specified in terms of pupil accomplishment.

“Teachers are told in detail what to teach for reading and how to teach it; far less attention is given to how to nurture a culture of reading and motivate children to enjoy reading, and very little guidance is given as to how a good reader in the different grades looks.”

According to the report, “Children who start school with strong language skills typically find it easier to learn to read and write, while children with poor language skills are at reading risk”.

Commenting on SA’s participation in 2021’s Pirls study, Mhlanga said that for each grade selected in a school an “intact class” of about 40 pupils will write the assessment.

“Pirls provides a valuable opportunity to assess whether the overall levels of reading comprehension in the country are improving and, by implication, provides an indication of whether our policies and programmes are bearing fruit.

“It also provides a rich data set which can be used to understand reading outcomes relative to a wide range of schools.”

 


React

Share

Comments


Trending News

More News

About Tame Times

Tame Communications (known as tameTIMES) was established in 1997. This long-established popular community title includes the key shopping centres:  Alberton City, Mall...

Get in Touch