WCED to interrogate disappointing PIRLS results | Western Cape Government


WCED to interrogate disappointing PIRLS results

7 December 2017

The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) (2016) paints a shocking picture of the state of literacy in South African primary schools.

While the study reveals that the Western Cape is well ahead of other provinces, we are far from satisfied with the results.

Achievement by province

The study indicates that nearly 78% (77.9%) of Grade 4 children in South Africa are functionally illiterate in their home language, in that they cannot read for meaning.

Limpopo has the highest rate of functional illiteracy in Grade 4, at 90.8%, while the Western Cape has the lowest, with 55%, followed by Gauteng with 68.5% and the Free State with 73.4%.

Conversely, 45% of Western Cape learners in Grade 4 learners can read for meaning in their home language, compared to 9.2% in Limpopo and 22.1% nationally.

While we are pleased that we have been improving and this is showing in our performance, it is still shocking that 55% of our Grade 4's cannot read for meaning. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage for the rest of their schooling career, and is also a factor that can lead to dropping out of school.

Systemic tests and interventions

We believe that one of the main reasons why the Western Cape outperforms other provinces is the interventions that we put in place that are informed by our annual systemic tests. These inform our language and mathematics strategies.

The Western Cape is the only province that engages in systemic testing. The tests look at performance in language and mathematics in Grades 3, 6 and 9. The pass mark is 50% for the purposes of the test.

One of the concerns arising in the PIRLS report is that there appears to be no improvement in reading since 2011 in South Africa.

However, the Western Cape's average pass rate for language in Grade 3 has improved in the tests from 30.4% in 2011 to 42.5% in 2016, an improvement of 12.1%.

The pass mark for language in Grade 6 has improved by 8.6% over the same period, from 31.5% to 40.1%.

The systemic tests are showing that interventions do work. The tests provide clear, independent information on what we need to do to improve performance in language and mathematics.


It is clear that more action is needed.

This is why we are rolling out e-learning, to enable more resources to become available to more people.

In addition, we are working on our new model of schooling called Collaboration Schools, in an attempt to ensure that our most disadvantaged learners get access to improved management at schools and better resources.

The WCED is investing tens of millions of Rands in teacher professional development, in addition to providing daily support via our district and head offices.

However, we need to interrogate the reasons why so many of our learners are still not performing at the required levels, and to ensure that all relevant role-players are held accountable.

I have discussed this with our SG, Brian Schreuder, who has already asked his senior officials to start developing a plan as to how we can improve.

Literacy and numeracy are the foundation on which all other learning happens. No child should proceed to Grade 4 without having mastered basic literacy and numeracy, because from this grade they start reading to learn, rather than learning to read.

We shall not rest until we provide excellent education every day, in every school, in every classroom in the Western Cape.

Media Enquiries: 

Jessica Shelver
Spokesperson to Minister Debbie Schafer
076 175 0663