For over 40 years, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning. So how do we fare in South Africa?
According to a 2016 study by Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS), eight out of 10 children who are in Grade 4 cannot read for meaning. Statistics released by Statistics South Africa also paint a grim picture of the country’s reading culture. Based on the findings nearly half of the country’s children have never read a book with a parent.
While experts believe that various steps such as promoting a reading culture, encouraging parents to read to their children, making books more affordable and accessible certainly helps in addressing the reading crisis—they also believe that that the crisis can be averted by providing high-quality and affordable education for all.
Addressing the reading crisis
SPARK Schools – a network of private schools offering affordable, globally competitive education -teaches reading for meaning from Grade R. While the complexity increases over time, scholars learn how to make inferences, ask questions and make connections to the text from the beginning.
Chief of Schools at SPARK Schools Bailey Thomson Blake says, “South Africa’s literacy instruction is in crisis and there is an urgent need for access to high-quality, affordable education for all South Africans.”
According to Blake, instruction in reading comprehension cannot begin only after a child reaches phonetic competence and fluency; it must be integrated from the outset.
“At SPARK Schools, literacy comprises nearly half of the instructional day in Grades R to 3. This is to ensure that scholars learn and practise reading and writing skills that they can confidently take with them into the intermediate phase and beyond.”
So how does one foster a reading culture?
The benefits of fostering a reading culture in children cannot be argued. Several studies have proven that children who read do better at school and can achieve great success later in life. There are some benefits that children gain from being able to read.
Reading helps children to develop language skills and knowledge. Being able to read also helps to expand a child’s vocabulary.
According to SPARK Schools, there are some ways that parents can foster a reading culture at home.
- Read to them
A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics on positive parenting found that things such as play and reading out loud has a positive impact on the social-emotional development of children.
It is important to make reading with your children exciting.
- Let them choose books they like
Allowing a child to pick up books that interest them makes reading fun and exciting.
It is important to make sure that a child understands what they are reading. So, when they read, ask them questions.
You can ask them questions such as; What is the story about? Who are the characters in the book? And what they have learned from the story? This is a good way to see whether your child understands what they are reading and are developing critical thinking skills.
- Make reading fun
It is important to make reading fun for your kids. Ensure that they choose a book that excites them, as this will be a fun activity for them.
Experts also recommend creating a book library at home, as this motivates children to read.
- Lead by example
As a parent, it is important to model the behaviour you want your children to display. It is important that your children see you reading books. By starting a reading habit yourself will encourage your children to also want to read.
Creating a reading culture at home is a great way to develop critical thinking skills, improving your child’s academic performance and developing their vocabulary.