While the improved 2023 matric pass rate is cause for celebration, consider the almost 500 000 children who started grade one in the same year but dropped out of school along the way. What can be done to ensure that more learners stay in the system until grade 12?

The crisis in South Africa’s education can be linked directly to the crisis around literacy. Learners with strong literacy skills are more likely to stay longer in school and do well academically. Yet, the latest results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study shows that 81% of 10-year-olds in South Africa don’t understand what they are reading. Not only does this give clues as to why learners in the foundation phase drop out, it also gives meaningful insight into what happens in the successive years, up to grade 12.   

Nic Spaull writes in the report Learning to Read, Reading to Learn“Since almost all future learning will depend on this fundamental understanding of the relation between print and spoken language, it is unsurprising that literacy, built upon a firm foundation of basic reading, is used as one of the primary measures of school efficacy.”