Reitumetse Makwea
Digital Intern
2 minute read
9 Sep 2021
8:50 am

Children’s literacy levels drop due to Covid and school disruptions

Reitumetse Makwea

South African schools have struggled to teach basic skills such as reading and writing, as well as early development for young children, but over the past three years there’s a been concerted effort to develop exceptional reading material in schools.

Children reading children's books together. Picture: iStock

As the world marked International Literacy Day on Wednesday, University of KwaZulu-Natal’s prof Wayne Hugo said there had been a huge focus on developing literacy and good reading materials in all languages in SA.

Hugo said South Africa was at the forefront of developing really good literacy material and had been doing that for the past four years.

However, there’s been a catastrophic drop in the literacy levels of children in the world.

“There haven’t been good reading materials in all languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana and so on, and often what they’d do is take English books and translate them in these languages,” he said.

“At the early age grades currently in our country because of Covid and disruptions, the amount of kids who were learning to read properly has gone down and that’s a big problem.”

This year’s theme was Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide, which according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) speaks to the evolving understanding of literacy.

“The Covid crisis has disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults at an unprecedented scale. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionally affecting 773 million nonliterate young people and adults,” Unesco said.

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“Youth and adult literacy were absent in many initial national response plans, while numerous literacy programmes have been forced to halt their usual modes of operation.”

South African schools have struggled to teach basic skills such as reading and writing, as well as early development for young children, but over the past three years there’s a been concerted effort to develop exceptional reading material in schools.

According to Save the Children’s Yani Horn in 2016, at least 78% of Grade 4 children could not read for meaning in SA in any language and now the situation has deteriorated by additional factors coming into play.

“Children are experiencing up to a year of learning losses due to school disruptions due to the pandemic,” she added.

“Additional compounding factors include civil unrest, damage to schools, and destruction to libraries as we have recently seen in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The implication is that our children have less opportunities to boost their literacy.”