No textbooks, no libraries, no wonder they can’t read

Issued by By Yusuf Cassim MPL, MPL
DA Member in the Education Portfolio Committee

Eight out of ten children in grade four are unable to read for meaning, which is hardly surprising when the Department of Education cannot even provide them with adequate textbooks or libraries.

The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) revealed that a staggering 81% of grade four learners are unable to read for meaning. It also revealed that grade six learners from the Eastern Cape were the worst-performing of all provinces. These alarming statistics highlight a dire literacy crisis that demands immediate attention.

Instead of taking corrective measures to ensure that learners are fully equipped with the tools they need, the Department has shown, time and again, that it is incapable of prioritising its budget. Officials would rather direct its limited funds to line the pockets of ANC cadres or give critical funding back to Treasury than meet our children’s needs.

Last year the Department was instructed by the Makhanda High Court to ensure that every learner at every public school in the Eastern Cape was provided with a full complement of stationery and textbooks.

Textbooks are supposed to be replenished every five years due to general wear and tear and to ensure content is relevant and up to date.

The current textbook stock was rolled out in 2016 and expired in 2021. Estimates are that a full replacement order will cost in the region of R2.5 billion.

The current 2023/24 budget under review has only made provision for top-up orders of textbooks and not for a full replenishment order. The MTEF over the next three years also doesn’t budget for the textbook order outstanding since 2021.

There is also a shortage of 3 375 school libraries, which would cost the Department in excess of R4.5 billion. Just 775 public schools in the province have libraries.

The Democratic Alliance will request that the budget be returned to the Department to review these funding allocations during the Education Portfolio Committee this afternoon.

Should the Department fail to do so, or should it fail to make the necessary provisions over the MTEF, we will reject the budget when it is brought to the Legislature for ratification next month.

In comparison, the Western Cape delivered the best results in both grades four and six, which can be attributed to targeted reading intervention strategies. The Western cape continues to invest in improving the reading abilities of learners, recently setting aside R1.2 billion for recouping learning losses through its Back on Track programme.

It is an injustice that the majority of grade four learners in our country are unable to comprehend the texts they encounter, hindering their ability to learn and succeed. This literacy crisis is a clear indication of a broken system that requires urgent intervention. Our nation’s future depends on an educated and literate generation. The DA remains committed to championing education reform and holding those responsible for the current state of affairs accountable.