Portfolio Committee on Basic Education chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba has told Polity that the matter of reading in schools cannot be politicised, even as calls for the removal of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga gain momentum following the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) which stated that 81% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language.
Mbinqo-Gigaba said the call for Motshekga to step down was an exaggeration. She said Motshekga was a political head and the culture of reading was the responsibility of a child’s family and school. Mbinqo-Gigaba said the Minister should not be crucified.
However, she admitted that while her committee was worried about the reading results it should be noted that South Africa was competing with rich countries with better resources.
Mbinqo-Gigaba said Motshekga should be commended for maintaining stability in her department despite the challenges.
"The issue here is that our country is testing itself as an African country with international countries. We are testing the ability of our country and we are not doing that within ourselves but we have taken ourselves out of the comfort zone, which is our country and the African continent. We have taken ourselves to the world, and you want to come and blame that to an individual. There should be something wrong with us. It can't be an individual problem and I hope I am not sounding as coming to [Motshekga’s] defence, because I am leading a portfolio committee which holds her to account – to us and the public. I really think it would be unfair [though]," she said.
She acknowledged that something must be done to improve on the recent PIRLS results.
When asked about early interventions to help improve the situation, Mbinqo-Gigaba said the Basic Education Department was working on taking the responsibility for early child development from the Department of Social Development.
On the issue of under-resourced schools, she admitted that there were no resources in public schools and added that books were also scarce.
She said reading corners, which were meant to encourage the culture of reading, were lacking but she also suggested that parents buy their children books and encourage them to read.
Touching on the issue of pit toilets, Mbinqo-Gigaba believed the 2025 deadline to eradicate pit toilets was ambitious, as she noted that many rural schools had no water resources.
She said her committee knew that pit latrine toilets were a danger to learners and that she hoped all provinces would eventually get rid of them as the Free State province had managed to do.