New UJ SARChI Chair Hosts "Reading in the Foundation Phase" Symposium

On the 29th of May the SARChI Chair in Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in Primary School hosted a symposium on "Reading in the Foundation Phase: Current developments and remaining gaps." As part of the symposium there were 32 delegates who heard presentations from 8 reading researchers from UNISA, the University of Witwatersrand, the University of Johannesburg, and the Department of Basic Education. The full program can be found below.  

The symposium was one of the inaugural events hosted by the SARChI Chair Prof Elizabeth Henning, and was organised by Dr Nic Spaull, a research associate affiliated with the Chair. Dr Spaull has recently been involved in two large research projects that have focussed on reading in the Foundation Phase and chose to convene the symposium at the University of Johannesburg given the complementarities with the SARChI Chair on primary schooling.   

Throughout the day presenters emphasised the centrality of learning to read. This was stressed in the opening presentation when Dr Spaull concluded his address: "Unless children learn to read, they cannot read to learn. When children don't learn to read by the end of Grade 3 they fall further and further behind the curriculum even as they proceed into higher grades. When 58% of our Grade 4 children have not learned to read in any language after four years of full time schooling we need to acknowledge that this is the biggest solvable problem in our education system." 

Prof Sebate and Dr Mampuru from UNISA outlined some of the challenges with translating the DBE workbooks into 11 languages, and spoke about the launch of the DBE Graded Readers series. In her address Prof Pretorius stressed the importance of oral reading fluency in learning to read and in assessing reading development and reading difficulties. Prof Fleisch and Dr Taylor reported some preliminary results from two randomised control trials  in KwaZulu-Natal and the North West provinces, both focussing on reading at the primary school level. The NW research comprises 250 schools in the province 

In brief outline of the aim of the Chair over five years Prof Henning pointed out the importance of a pedagogical connection between learning to read and learning science and mathematics. She said that the research in the Chair will contribute to the existing school curriculum by finding practical pathways to integrate the language curriculum with the science and the maths curriculum 

Perhaps the most important discussion of the day was the 'open discussion' session at the end of the symposium where Carol Nuga Deliwe (the Chief Director of Strategy, Planning Research and Analysis in the National DBE) provided helpful contextualisation of the on-going research initiatives and how these fit within existing government programmes. There was widespread agreement that the Department of Basic Education needed to prioritise the goal of the universal acquisition of basic reading skills above other goals. 

Prof Henning closed the symposium and promised to host a y​early symposium on the same topic (Reading in the Foundation Phase), with the intention of bringing researchers, policy-makers and practitioners together to address the reading crisis in South Africa.

08:30 - 09:00 Morning tea and coffee
09:00 – 09:20Nic Spaull, University of Johannesburg/OECD

Reading in the Foundation Phase – introduction, welcome and overview
09:25 – 09:45Deborah Mampuru, University of South Africa,

DBE Workbooks and graded readers: Successes and challenges
09:50 – 10:10Phaladi Sebate, University of South Africa

Adapting the DBE workbooks into African languages
10:15 – 10:35Lilli Pretorius, University of South Africa

Oral Reading Fluency and other components of ESL reading: What we know and what we still need to discover
10:40 – 11:00Stephen Taylor, Department of Basic Education

Preliminary results of a Randomized Control Trial assessing an early grade reading intervention in the North West
11:00 – 11:20Tea and coffee break
11:25 – 11:50Elizabeth Henning, University of Johannesburg

Vision for the new NRF SARChI Chair in Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in the Primary School
11:55 – 12:20

Brahm Fleisch, Wits University

Reflections on large-scale interventions: Overview of ongoing interventions and discussion of the Triple Cocktail
12:20 – 13:20


Carol Nuga Deliwe, Department of Basic Education & Nic Spaull, University of Johannesburg/OECD

Facilitated discussion with everyone on prioritising reading in the DBE – moving from rhetoric to implementation
13:30 – 14:30Lunch