The importance of reading | Western Cape Government

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The importance of reading

Each year we celebrate Primary school learner reading a book in class. National Book Week in September. 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 can't read for meaning by the age of 10.

Considering 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 help improve numeracy.

Improving literacy and numeracy skills are crucial to a child’s ability to develop fully as an individual. These skills can help them live a satisfying and rewarding life and to fully take part 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 the encouragement of extra-mural reading and the encouragement of a culture of reading. Parents and learners must increase the time spent on reading.

Promoting a culture of reading 

Provincial Minister of Education, David Maynier, said: "A love of reading is the single greatest educational gift we can give our children to ensure that they will succeed in their school career. We must all work together to achieve total literacy for our learners, and we appeal to parents to support our learners by encouraging them to read at home daily.

How can I help?

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

Advocacy and parental involvement are two of the 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.

Minister Maynier acknowledged the different stakeholders that 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 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 taking part 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. This year, the day will be celebrated worldwide under the theme, Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces. At the global event, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), will organise a 2-day hybrid international event. 

The focus this year will be on rethinking the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all.

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

The content on this page was last updated on 8 September 2022