More Than Half Of Grade 1 Learners Do Not Know The Alphabet

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Foundation phase plays a crucial role in childhood development and if basic literacy and numeracy skills are not grasped, it sets a child back for the rest of their schooling career. South Africa's literacy crisis appears to be worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic as recent statistics reveal that more than 50% of Grade 1 learners struggle with the alphabet. 


The first few years of school can be described as a child's most formative years where basic, but vital skills are grasped that form the foundation of further learning. However, when the majority of pupils entering Grade 2 do not know the alphabet, it is a cause for concern.

The report published by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) found that 60% of learners did not know the alphabet at the end of Grade 1 and a further 30% were still struggling by the end of Grade 2.

These basic skills such as counting, learning the alphabet and understanding syllables, form the building blocks of a child's education. When these are not grasped in early childhood, it results in challenges later on in learning and eventually in finding employment. 

Causes of the literacy crisis

Erika Kempken, Director of Youth@WORK spoke to eNCA to weigh in on what is to blame for these shocking statistics.

The lack of regular assessments during foundation phases make it challenging to identify possible gaps in a child's learning. 

Kempken states that each individual child needs to be assisted with the particular area in which they are struggling. However, overcrowding at many public schools can make it impossible for teachers to give each child the necessary attention they need to thrive. Some schools in the Eastern Cape are grappling with classes of up to 120 learners per teacher.

In addition, a large number of our schools are under resourced, meaning teachers do not have enough time, tools or money to assess students as regularly as they should. Thus, these gaps in learning cannot be identified.

Government initiatives in place

One of the programmes that have been implemented to help combat this literacy crisis, was the youth employment initiative where youth went to under resourced schools to assist teachers with attending to learners. However, this needs to be done on a mass scale if we are to see the desired results.

South Africa has a large percentage of unemployed youth, many of whom have the necessary drive, enthusiasm and tools to assist teachers and attend to a much bigger group of learners.

Programmes need to be put in place to equip unemployed youth with the necessary skills and resources to shift this issue quickly and provide teachers with the required assistance. 

Not only will this type of initiative pave the way in solving the literacy crisis, but it will also give thousands of unemployed youth the opportunity to gain some work experience and important skills. 

Although the solution seems simple enough, time after time the Department has failed to meet their targets of providing solutions to schools affected by overcrowding, poor infrastructure, pit toilets and a lack of resources.

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