The importance of reading | Western Cape Government

The importance of reading

Primary school learner reading a book in class.

Reading and comprehension skills are fundamental for a child’s development. Reading helps children improve their cognitive skills, enlightens them to new ideas, and develops their critical thinking skills.

Early exposure to books helps children develop vocabulary and language skills. Unfortunately, thousands of learners and adults lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Statistics show that about 60% of households have no books for entertainment, and only 14% of the population actively read books. Reports suggest a mere 5% of parents read to their children. 

Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2021, which assesses reading comprehension of Grade 4 learners, confirmed that learning losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are severe across South Africa. Nationally, 81% of learners can't read for meaning by the age of 10.

SA’s PIRLS score dropped from 320 (2016) to 288 (2021), taking the country back to the 2011 level.

The Western Cape scored 363, which is the highest score received by a province, and 75 points ahead of the average score for South Africa.

The Western Cape Education Department has already taken decisive action to reverse the Covid-19 learning losses in the Foundation Phase. The department implemented the Western Cape Reading Strategy to strengthen performance in reading across all grades.

In addition, a massive R1.2bn #BackOnTrack programme was recently launched to reverse learning losses in the Western Cape.

Literacy is the foundation 

Improving our children’s reading is a key priority for the Western Cape Government, and this starts with making sure our youngest learners have access to books that will support their learning.

School learner reading a book in the libraryAn intervention to improve reading for meaning includes providing new decodable readers and anthologies for the foundation phase to primary schools.

The investment, which forms part of the Western Cape Reading Strategy, covers three languages, and will substantially increase the amount of reading material in schools.

The allocation of an extra two hours per week for reading within the school day in the Foundation Phase was piloted in the Western Cape last year. It has now been recommended across the country and will continue for our youngest learners.

Promoting a culture of reading 

Provincial Minister of Education, David Maynier, said raising literacy levels requires a joint effort by government, researchers, civil society, and all the residents of our province: a collective effort called Team READ. 

“Parents play an especially important role in improving their children’s reading skills. So, I encourage every parent – particularly those with young children – to read a book with their child today. A love of reading is a priceless gift, and the earlier our learners develop this valuable skill, the better!”

How can I help?

Solving South Africa’s literacy problems requires innovative solutions and collective involvement.

Advocacy and parental involvement are two pillars of the Western Cape Reading Strategy. They developed the strategy in collaboration with the Coalition for Quality Education in the Western Cape to improve reading with understanding amongst learners.

The coalition (TEAM READ) is a collaborative association for all education stakeholders (including government, private business, NPOs, civil society and funders) with two focus areas: what teachers and learners must do better to improve reading literacy and a whole of society movement that will garner everyone’s help in improving reading.Learners with tablets

Learners with tablets

Minister Maynier acknowledged the various stakeholders who recently attended the WCED Foundation Phase Reading Conference and said that Team Read was all about coming together to make our readers fly high in the Western Cape.

"The gift of reading is not only about learning but also a gift of well-being,” Minister Maynier said.

One way to encourage reading at home is to make reading a habit. Need tips on what you can do at home to improve your child's reading and writing skills? The Department of Education  has some great ideas for making reading fun for your children. Another way to improve literacy skills is to visit your local library, borrow books to read at leisure, and participate in their activities. 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.

The content on this page was last updated on 22 May 2023