Tuesday 28 May

23 April 2024, Johannesburg – The Right to Read (R2R) campaign joins the global commemoration of World Book Day, dedicated to promoting the joy of reading and the invaluable role that books play in literacy and education.
World Book Day encourages everyone to read in their own way, in their preferred language, their preferred topic, and in a way that is fun. All over the world, countries will celebrate the day by promoting the enjoyment of reading to children under the theme “Read Your Way” and by honouring the timeless significance of literature as a source of knowledge, inspiration, and cultural heritage. However, on this day, South Africans are made to consider the reality that the enjoyment of books is hindered when there are simply no books provided for children to read, and when there are books, millions of children are not able to read them.

South Africa is facing a literacy crisis. According to the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 81% of South African Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language. Our current trajectory (both pre and post COVID) means it would take more than 80 years for 95% of Grade 4 learners to be able to read for meaning. PIRLS 2021 also revealed that South African Grade 4 learners who were tested in English and Afrikaans scored above the national average, while learners tested in African languages were up to 3 years behind English learners. Additionally, more urban provinces scored much higher than the national average, while rural provinces like Mpumalanga, North-West and Limpopo scored significantly lower. Compared to a child in the wealthiest 10% of schools, a child in the poorest 70% of schools was 10 times less likely to be able to read for meaning.

Well-equipped schools that have the relevant educational resources such as reading materials and libraries perform significantly better in standardised assessments than those without such resources. Unfortunately, 30 years after racial segregation was abolished in schools, there is still a tendency for these well-resourced schools to be those that served White learners during apartheid (which is reflected in the PIRLS 2021 results). On the other hand, schools in deprived townships and rural areas that accommodated Black learners during apartheid, remain under resourced and unable to impart essential education skills to learners.
The Department of Basic Education’s 2021 statistics revealed that 74% of public schools did not have a library. From a global standpoint, 70% of South African head teachers report a shortage of library materials compared to an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 16%.  South Africans are not able to celebrate reading alongside the rest of the world.

The Makhanda High Court has confirmed that the state is required to deliver textbooks and stationery to give effect to the realisation of the right to basic education, in Khula Community Development Project v The Head of Department of the Eastern Cape Department of Education (Unreported Case NO 611/2022 Eastern Cape Division, 22 March 2022). In 2022, 4810 schools in the Eastern Cape province began the school year without learning materials. Thousands of learners were left without learning materials and instructed to rely on materials from previous years. It was not until late March 2022 that learners from these schools started receiving these materials, following an order from the Makhanda High Court for the Eastern Cape Department of Education and the Department of Basic Education to immediately provide learners in the Eastern Cape with the necessary materials.
These issues are exacerbated by the LTSM procurement process that is known to be poor, with problems relating to structural and systems arrangements, and not adhering to the policies in place. In 2022/2023, irregular expenditure (not in accordance with procurement laws) was R5.12 billion on basic education. The issue is therefore not necessarily that government spending is insufficient with regard to LTSM, but more so that the spending is ineffective and adds little value to learners’ lives due to a mismanaged procurement process.

The ability to read for meaning is the foundation upon which nearly all academic abilities are constructed, including mathematics. If students are not able to read for meaning by the age of 10 (Grade 4), they will experience ongoing academic challenges, despite advancing to higher grade levels. The fact that most of our learners struggle to comprehend what they read not only reflects a system that lacks the essential resources to enable children to develop this crucial skill but also violates their fundamental right to receive a basic education.

The R2R campaign, comprising a coalition of human rights organisations which include, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Equal Education (EE), Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), SECTION27, and the Centre for Child Law (CCL), is committed to making early-grade literacy a national priority through legislative reform and through the development of binding regulations for Grades 1 to 3. It has been 16 years since the DBE gazetted guidelines for recommended reading materials, setting out the minimum package required, yet there are still severe shortages of quality, appropriate reading materials in classrooms.
We believe that the DBE’s “guidelines” need to be updated and then upgraded to binding standards that require sufficient texts to be available, because mere policies have been consistently ignored. These regulations aim to ensure that the government clarifies its obligations in terms of teaching time, teacher training, quality LTSM, and regular literacy testing to ensure that learners can read for meaning by the age of 10.
On World Book Day we highlight the resource poverty in thousands of South Africa’s no-fee schools. The R2R campaign calls on the state to adopt regulations that ensure the provision of sufficient books and materials that will get our nation reading for meaning.

For more information about the R2R Campaign, please visit www.righttoread.org.za
For media enquiries contact:

Wisani Baloyi
081 016 8308

Puleng Mosia
063 001 4333

Gillian Pillay
082 772 0052

Noncedo Madubedube
082 586 2444

Categories: Media Statements


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