An international literacy study has confirmed that 81% of South Africa’s grade 4 children could not read for meaning in any language in 2021, almost exactly the same proportion as in 2011. This means that a decade of slow progress in reading has been wiped out.

The child literacy rate observed by the Progress on International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) in 2011 was 82%. In 2016, the figure was 78%.

Learning losses associated with the Covid-19 pandemic are the main reason for the slide backwards since 2011. But a research paper published to coincide with the PIRLS results has shown that the Department of Basic Education has done almost nothing to help children catch up on lost time. Viewfinder and GroundUp also revealed last week that the Department’s National Reading Plan, which it has touted in Parliament as a success, is actually a serious failure from a planning, implementation and monitoring perspective.