78% of grade 4 pupils in SA are illiterate - study

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study measured literacy levels between 2011 & 2016 and has found 78% of the pupils who took part are illiterate.

Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - An international study measuring reading literacy levels has scored South Africa the lowest out of 50 countries globally.

"The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study" released its results on Tuesday after assessing grade 4 pupils at South Africa’s schools.

The report measured literacy levels between 2011 and 2016 and has found 78% of the pupils who took part are illiterate.

The Basic Education Department’s Elijah Mhlanga said: “We welcome the report because it’s something that we were looking forward to. We were not expecting a negative or positive result, but a report that would give us a true picture of what is taking place in the education system.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister for Education Ian Ollis says the results show there is a crisis in early learning centres.

“Literacy has not improved in the lower grades in school. We’re significantly concerned about this problem and we believe that it is time to take a different course of action.”


There are calls for urgent intervention to improve South Africa's education system, especially at early learning centres after an international literacy study ranked the country the worst on a global scale.

The recent study by the international literacy assessment body has raised further concerns over the quality of South Africa’s education system.

Mhlanga says one of the glaring problems is that South Africa is not a reading nation.

“It doesn’t mean the schooling system is failing on its own. It also means that even at home, there’s no reading culture.”

Ollis says the study indicates that the remedies implemented by the department to improve reading are simply not working.

“People can spin the truth as much as they like, the fact is that the improvements are just not there.”

The department says there are lessons to be learnt from this report, but parental support remains a crucial factor in children’s literacy levels.

(Edited by Zamangwane Shange)