MEDIA STATEMENT – 5 December 2017


No new PIRLS of wisdom just yet – Lessons to Learn


President of NAPTOSA, Mr Nkosiphendule Ntantala, while welcoming the global release of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 presented to stakeholders in Centurion today, questioned what lessons we can learn from this study.


South Africa still performs at the bottom of the 50 country list. The Russian Federation tops the list at 581 points and South Africa again scores the lowest on 320 points. Mr Ntantala asks what we can learn from the Russian Federation in order to improve our educational reading strategies in South Africa. ‘Given that the Russian Federation spends almost double the instructional time South Africa does on language and reading, it is perhaps not surprising that it continues to top the list,’ said Ntantala. Furthermore, the Russian Federation has better instructional strategies in that by the time learners reach Grade 1, they are better prepared for school. ‘Reasons for this could be because pre-schooling in that country is of a high standard, something NAPTOSA has continuously urged the Department of Basic Education to formalise,’ said Ntantala.

NAPTOSA notes that 71% of our Grade 4 learners wrote the test in the language which they speak at home. The lesson to be learned is that learners should be allowed to write assessments in their mother-tongues; a position which NAPTOSA continues to advocate. ‘Thus, despite the fact that there was a negligible increase in the bottom line result, this is likely due to the fact that learners wrote in their mother-tongue language. What this result does is mask the fact that we are still performing poorly overall. We need to question whether this is a reflection of the quality of language teaching in our country,’ said Ntantala.


Furthermore, the marginal difference in improved reading scores from ten years ago is insignificant when looking at the average class sizes of our schools. The lesson to be learned here is that poor reading performance is irrevocably linked to the average class size of 45 learners per class. ‘This increases to over 50 learners per class when learners are taught in Xitsonga, Tshivenda and siSwati. These class sizes are unacceptable. Improvement will not come on the back of over-crowded classrooms,’ said Ntantala.

 NAPTOSA calls on the DBE to learn from the lessons the results of the PIRLS 2016 scream to us. Real strategies that address the lack of parental involvement in early learning; better funding for Foundation Phase and the formalisation of Grade R need urgent attention. We need to learn to see to it that schools are properly resourced, not only in the classrooms, but in terms of provisioning decent libraries.  We need to learn that unless we operate in safe school environments; become more accountable in terms of stemming the high absenteeism rate amongst learners and teachers; and resource our homes with adequate reading materials, we will continue to fall behind our international counterparts and indeed, contribute to an illiterate society. Furthermore, we need to learn to look at the quality of language teaching in the country, and deal with the gaps head-on. ‘We acknowledge the shared responsibility that the PIRLS 2016 report alludes to; we cannot leave the education of our children solely in the hands of our educators. We need to learn from this study and move beyond the challenges it presents’ said Ntantala.



End of statement




President of NAPTOSA: Mr Nkosiphendule “Star” Ntantala – 072 198 0599

Executive Director of NAPTOSA:  Mr Basil Manuel - 079 508 6228