23 March 2018

South Africa: The Pirls Debacle - Literacy, Language and Standards in Schools in South Africa

analysis

There are problems with literacy tests and what they can tell us. The tests work with greatly limited constructs of both literacy and language and are neither sensitive enough nor grounded enough in actual classroom literacy practices to be of any use beyond pointing to what we all already know in broad outline - schooling is a problem in South Africa, characterised by systemic inequalities, widespread inefficiencies and by national curricula that are blunt instruments, responding to the differences and particularities that characterises schooling in South Africa as if there were no differences. By MASTIN PRINSLOO.

Conversations about literacy/illiteracy from South Africa that I followed on social media in November 2017 featured a thread where people argued about whether South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho or Ethiopia were the most literate countries, the first three scoring in the 90s as their percentage of literates, as recorded in the annual United Nations literacy tables.

Then, in December 2017 the focus of conversation shifted as disaster appeared to strike in the form of the release of the latest PIRLS (Progress in Reading Literacy Study). PIRLS tested a selection of Grade 4 children across the country in 2016 and compared their results to 50 other...

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