South Africa’s reading literacy: PIRLS 2021 Report

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The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is a project that assesses reading comprehension and monitors trends and indicators of growth in reading literacy at five-year intervals. South Africa participated in the PIRLS 2021 study, which was the first international large-scale assessment to report achievement trends after successfully collecting data during the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa was one of three African countries to participate, and the only one from the Sub-Saharan region. South Africa also stratified its sample among 11 official language groupings, resulting in a high percentage of low socio-economic schools featured in the collection of data.

The PIRLS 2021 study revealed very low-performance levels on learners’ ability to read for meaning as they turn 10. South Africa, at 288 score points, performed significantly below the PIRLS centre point of 500. Singapore (587) was the highest performing country, followed by Ireland (567) and Finland (566) The study also identified possible associated contextual factors that influence reading achievement, such as home and school socioeconomic status, school environment, reading habits and attitudes, and teacher qualifications and practices.
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