The importance of reading | Western Cape Government

The importance of reading

Primary school learner reading a book in class. We're commemorating National Book Week from 7 to 13 September. It's an initiative of the South African Book Development Council (SABDC) in collaboration with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture

This initiative seeks to encourage the nation to value reading as a fun and pleasurable activity and to showcase how reading can easily be incorporated into one’s daily lifestyle.

The commemoration coincides with International Literacy Day on 8 September.

Being able to read is an important part of a child’s development and exposing children to books at an early age helps with their vocabulary development and language skills. Sadly, thousands of learners and adults don’t have basic literacy and numeracy skills.

According to statistics, nearly 60% of households don’t own a leisure reading book with only 14% of the population active book readers. Reports suggest a mere 5% of parents read to their children. 

Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016, which assesses reading comprehension of grade 4 learners, reveal that South Africa faces many challenges when developing reading literacy at Grade 4 level. Nationally, 78% of learners cannot read for meaning by the age of 10.

In light of this, the Western Cape Education Department launched the Western Cape Reading Strategy, which hopes to elevate reading as a priority. 

Literacy is the foundation 

Literacy is the foundation for all learning. Improving the levels of literacy can also assist in improving numeracy.

Improving literacy and numeracy skills are crucial to a child’s ability to develop fully as an individual. These skills can help them to live a satisfying and rewarding life and to participate fully in society as they grow and mature.

The PIRLS has a set of recommendations of which the strengthening of teaching on reading literacy, in the Foundation Phase (grade R to grade 3), is at the top of the list. It also recommends that extra-mural reading be encouraged and that a culture of reading cultivated. Parents and learners must increase the amount of time spent on reading.

Promoting a culture of reading 

Provincial Minister of Education, Debbie Schafer says although there aren’t any quick fixes, there certainly are slow and sure ones. This is something the Department is focusing on for some time now.

“We are acutely aware that our rates of literacy and numeracy in South Africa are concerningly low, which negatively impacts on our education system and consequently our economic growth,” she said.

Minister Schafer says promoting a culture of reading, encouraging parents to read to their children and making books accessible in schools will help improve literacy levels of learners.

"No child should leave school without having mastered these skills. In fact, no child should proceed to grade 4 without having mastered basic literacy and numeracy.”

"If the basics are not laid at an early age, the problems persist throughout the system and become a problem for every teacher after that," she added.

How can I help?

Solving South Africa’s literacy problems rSchool learner reading a book in the libraryequires innovative solutions and collective involvement.

According to Minister Schafer, one of the biggest challenges is creating a culture of reading books and educating ­parents about the importance of reading books to their children, and if they can't read, still encourage their children to read.

"The ability to read is something so many of us takes for granted, but the reality is that because of our unequal history, many parents today can’t read at all, or not well. This inhibits them from taking an active interest in their children’s education because they don’t feel confident enough," Minister Schafer said.

One of the ways to encourage reading in your household is to make reading a habit. Do you need tips on what you can do at home to build the reading, writing of your children? The Department of Education has some great ideas on how you can make reading fun for your children. 

Another way of improving literacy skills is by visiting local libraries - borrowing books to read in your free time and participating in the activities on offer. Research has shown that learners become more competent readers when they have access to a school library with a good resource collection.

Donate books and change a life

Do you have reading books you’re no longer using? Consider donating it to a local school library or one of these NPOs to help make a difference.


International Literacy DayLearners with tablets

Learners with tablets

On 8 September we celebrate International Literacy Day, in which we highlight the importance of literacy. Through a virtual conference, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), will initiate a collective global discussion to reimagine the literacy teaching and learning of youth and adults in the post-Covid-19 era towards the achievement of the SDG4. 

The focus this year will be on the role of educators and the changing method and practice of teaching.

International Literacy Day has been celebrated annually since 1967 to advocate the importance of literacy.

The content on this page was last updated on 4 September 2020