78% of Grade 4 learners can’t read, but the government wants to teach them coding

With 78% of Grade 4 learners not being able to read with meaning, the government should use its resources on improving literacy levels instead of spending money on coding and robotics.

This is the view of Nic Spaull, a senior researcher in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his recent state of the nation address that coding and robotics will be introduced in Grades R to 3 in 200 schools this year.

The Grade R to Grade 3 coding and robotics curriculum has been developed, and the design of the Grade 4 to 9 curriculum is at an advanced stage.

“We will be piloting this curriculum from January 2020 in Grade R to 3 and in Grade 7,” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said.

The rollout of the coding and robotics teaching in all schools is expected to happen by 2022, Ramaphosa said.

First reading, then coding

While the plan to introduce coding and robotics in the curriculum was widely welcomed, not everyone thinks it is a good idea.

Speaking to SAFM’s Cathy Mohlahlana, Spaull said it will not be a worthwhile intervention. In fact, he said, it is a mistake.

“I was disappointed that the President did not stick with his focus on early-grade reading,” Spaull said.

He said the previous focus was to ensure that all children would be able to read with meaning by the age of 10.

This initiative was widely accepted as the best way forward, but coding and robotics are now taking centre stage.

“I think it is a publicity stunt, trying to say that South Africa is ready for the fourth industrial revolution and that we are doing big things which sound sexy,” he said.

The reality, he said, is that we have 78% of Grade 4 learners who can’t read.

He added that you cannot teach a child to code when they can’t read and do basic Mathematics.

“When we focus on coding and robotics it means that we take away time and resources from reading and Mathematics,” he said.

No capacity to implement both

While many people believe that schools can teach coding and improve reading at the same time, Spaull said research shows that there is no capacity to achieve both goals.

“The capacity which the government has to implement new programmes means they can only do a small number of things well,” he said.

“If you ask them to do 10 or 20 things well, they are not able to do it.”

If, however, the government’s resources are only focused on early reading, early Mathematics and teacher development, the results will be much better.

“The problem is that we keep piling on these nice-to-haves, but it is a mistake to think we can do a lot of things well.”

Now read: SONA 2020 – Ramaphosa makes promises we have heard all before

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78% of Grade 4 learners can’t read, but the government wants to teach them coding