Original Research

New approaches and strategies for teaching African children initial reading

Martha M. Cronje
Literator | Vol 42, No 1 | a1716 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v42i1.1716 | © 2021 Martha M. Cronje | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 June 2020 | Published: 18 February 2021

About the author(s)

Martha M. Cronje, Department of Educational Foundations, Faculty of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


In the 1990s, during investigations at primary schools, the author tested the ability of Grade 2 African children to read, finding that about 80% of them could read. However, for the past 15 years the author has found that only about 20% of Grade 2 African learners can read, as also confirmed by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) which in 2016 found that about 80% of Grade 4 children do not have basic reading skills, indicating a reading crisis in South Africa. For this article pedagogic reasons for the reading crisis, and possible solutions, were sought by means of a literature search regarding: the reading crisis, its causes and consequences; approaches to initial reading and their suitability to African languages; and departmental prescriptions for Grade 1. Two pedagogic reasons for the crisis were found: (1) The approaches to initial reading in use are not suitable for African children and African languages and (2) The Grade 1 Lesson Plan (instead of the Government’s CAPS) used for teaching English second language, confuses children with written English, with another set of letter sounds, so that most cannot learn to read. This article proposes a new curriculum for Grade 1, and addresses the following gaps in the literature: it points out particulars about African languages that indicate the phonics approach to initial reading unsuitable for African children, while advocating the syllabic approach, long unknown and/or misjudged. This article is also significant for pointing out the injustice done to children who must do initial reading in two languages simultaneously.


African languages; approaches to teaching reading; educational documents; initial reading; ReSEP document; South Africa’s reading crisis; syllabic reading approach.


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