Literacy Crisis In South Africa: Is Artificial Intelligence The Simple Solution?
23 February 2023 - Written by a wise EduBird

Literacy and reading level

Literacy and reading level are essential components of education and play a significant role in an individual’s personal and professional growth. Literacy refers to the ability to read, write, and comprehend written language, while reading level refers to an individual’s proficiency in reading and understanding written text.

It is crucial to have a good level of literacy and reading proficiency as it empowers individuals to communicate effectively, access information, and participate fully in society. Moreover, being literate and having good reading skills opens up numerous opportunities, including employment and higher education.

The link between literacy rates and the progress of society highlights the need for targeted interventions to improve reading in disadvantaged communities and developing countries. Education systems must prioritise literacy development to ensure that individuals have the skills they need to succeed in education and life.

Literacy crisis in South Africa

The literacy crisis in South Africa is a matter of grave concern. Despite the government’s efforts to improve reading rates, the latest statistics show that the country is still struggling with this issue. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2021, only 24% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa are able to read for meaning. This means that a staggering 76% of learners in the country are unable to comprehend what they are reading, which is a significant barrier to their education and future opportunities.

The 2022 matric results in South Africa were disappointing, with a national pass rate of just 76.4%. While this was an improvement on the previous year, the pass rate masks a deeper problem: many learners are failing to master basic literacy skills in the early years of schooling. This is reflected in the high dropout rates among learners, which have been estimated to be as high as 50% by the time learners reach grade 12 (Naidoo, 2020).

This reading crisis in South Africa has extensive consequences for individuals and the country as a whole. Children who struggle with literacy are more likely to drop out of school, have limited job opportunities, and struggle with other aspects of life. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and inequality that has far-reaching consequences for South Africa’s future.

Reasons behind the low literacy rate in South Africa

There are several reasons behind the low literacy rate in South Africa, including poverty, the quality of education, and the impact of COVID-19 among others.

Firstly, poverty is a significant factor that contributes to low literacy rates in South Africa. Many children living in poverty do not have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare, let alone educational resources such as books, computers, and qualified teachers. This limits their ability to attend school regularly and receive quality education, leading to poor literacy skills from the early stages of development all the way through to high school.

Secondly, the quality of education in South Africa is a significant concern. Despite significant investment in education by the government, the quality of teaching remains poor, particularly in rural areas. Many teachers lack the necessary training and resources to provide learners with the support they need to develop their literacy skills effectively.

Thirdly, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the literacy crisis in South Africa. School closures and disruptions to learning have impacted learners’ ability to develop their reading and writing skills. The pandemic has also highlighted the digital divide, with many learners lacking access to online learning resources due to their challenging context.

Other factors that contribute to low literacy rates in South Africa include high rates of HIV/AIDS, inadequate early childhood development, and a lack of parental involvement in education.

It is crucial that urgent action is taken to address the literacy rate in South Africa. This includes improving the quality of teaching, providing learners with access to high-quality reading materials, and investing in resources and interventions that support struggling learners. It also requires a collective effort from all stakeholders, including the government, educators, parents, and the broader community, to work together to ensure that every child in South Africa has access to quality education.

Current efforts to improve literacy in South Africa

There are several ongoing efforts to address the reading levels in South Africa, including government initiatives, non-profit organisations, and technology-based solutions.

One of the key initiatives is the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), which is a program that assesses the reading ability of learners in the early grades. This program aims to identify learners who are struggling with reading and provide them with the support they need to improve their literacy skills.

Non-profit organisations are also playing a critical role in addressing the low literacy rates. These organisations provide financial support to schools, mentoring and tutoring support for students, and training for teachers on how to improve reading engagement and level. Examples of such organisations include the Read to Rise, Shine Literacy, Preeva Foundation and Nal’ibali.

Technology-based solutions such as reading mobile apps have also been developed to improve reading rates in South Africa. These apps, such as SmartKidzClub, Funda, FunDza, and WordWorks, provide learners with access to digital reading materials and resources that help improve their reading skills.

Furthermore, initiatives such as the National Reading Coalition have been established to bring together stakeholders from different sectors to promote a culture of reading in South Africa. The coalition aims to create partnerships between schools, libraries, non-profit organisations, and the private sector to improve literacy levels in the country.

Literacy crisis in South Africa can be solved with the help of Lexplore's AI-based reading assessment tool brought to you by EduBoard
A student conducts a reading assessment using Lexplore’s AI-based literacy assessment tool

New AI-based reading assessment tool to rapidly identify and address issues at all grades – Lexplore

With the advances in artificial intelligence it was only a matter of time before the power of this technology would be harnessed to address low literacy levels.

Introducing Lexplore, an artificial intelligence-based reading assessment tool that is designed to help teachers and schools identify learners who may be struggling with reading. The system uses advanced eye-tracking technology to measure a student’s reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension. This information can then be used to provide targeted support to learners who are struggling with reading.

The Lexplore solution works by using a high-speed camera and specialised software to track a student’s eye movements as they read. The system records the duration and position of each eye fixation, as well as the saccadic movements between fixations. By analysing this data, the system can determine how fluent and accurate the student’s reading is, as well as how well they comprehend what they are reading.

The Lexplore system can be used by teachers to assess the reading abilities of their students quickly and accurately. Although the solution is used on a one-to-one basis, it saves a huge amount of time in the process of assessing reading as it takes only 5 mins per assessment. The high accuracy together with detailed reporting and intervention data is available to multiple stakeholders at different levels, which can include teachers, headmasters, district and national education departments.

Lexplore has been shown to be an effective tool for improving literacy levels in schools. In a pilot study conducted in the UK, the system was used to assess the reading abilities of 2,800 students across 10 schools. The results showed that the system was able to accurately identify students who were struggling with reading, and that the targeted interventions provided to these students led to significant improvements in their reading skills.

By using Lexplore assessments every three months, teachers can track the progress of their learners and adjust their teaching strategies accordingly. This ensures that learners receive the support they need to develop the foundational reading skills that are essential for success in all areas of the curriculum. By intervening early, teachers can prevent learners from falling behind and ensure that they are able to keep up with their peers.

If teachers did not spend their time assessing and putting reports together, the consequences could be severe. Without regular assessments, it would be difficult for teachers to identify learners who are struggling with basic literacy skills. This could lead to learners falling behind and becoming disengaged from the classroom, which could ultimately result in high dropout rates and poor matric outcomes.

The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) has been used in South Africa to assess reading proficiency in grade 1 to grade 3 learners. While the EGRA is an effective tool, it only assesses learners in the early years of schooling. By contrast, the Lexplore assessment harnesses the power of AI and can be used in all grades, enabling teachers to track progress over time and intervene early to prevent learners from falling behind.

BBC The One Show – Lexplore

EduBoard brings Lexplore to South Africa

EduBoard is a South African-based educational technology (EdTech) company that has partnered with Lexplore to adapt the reading assessment tool for use in the South African context.

EduBoard’s approach to implementing Lexplore’s solution in South Africa is comprehensive and inclusive. The company is working to ensure that the system is accessible to all learners, regardless of their socioeconomic status. By partnering with both private and fee-paying government schools, as well as governmental education departments and non-profit organisations, EduBoard is able to reach a wide range of learners across the country and across income levels.

Here are some other efforts EduBoard is undertaking to maximise Lexplore’s effectiveness:

  • Advocacy for literacy: EduBoard has been vocal about the need to address the literacy challenge in South Africa and has used their platform to advocate for more resources and support for literacy initiatives. By raising awareness of the issue, EduBoard has helped to build momentum around increased efforts to improve literacy rates.
  • Data-driven interventions: By using the Lexplore assessment tool, EduBoard is able to provide data-driven interventions to teachers for learners who are struggling with reading. This can include personalised support to help students build the skills they need to become strong and confident readers.
  • Innovative technology: EduBoard has developed a range of innovative technology tools to support literacy development, including a digital library with hundreds of books and an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can automatically generate quizzes and assessments based on the books that students have read.

Overall, EduBoard’s approach to addressing the literacy crisis in South Africa involves a combination of collaboration, partnership, advocacy, data-driven interventions, and innovative technology. By leveraging the power of Lexplore and other tools, EduBoard is helping to make a real difference in the lives of South African learners and contributing to a brighter future for the country.


In conclusion, the reading crisis in South Africa is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution. However, together with the current efforts in place to address the crisis, the use of Lexplore’s AI-based assessments and interventions will only contribute to a positive upswing in literacy levels which has countless positive repercussions.

By using Lexplore assessments to identify learners who are struggling with basic literacy skills, teachers can intervene early and ensure that learners receive the support they need to succeed. With effective literacy interventions in place, learners in South Africa can overcome the challenges they face and achieve success!


EduBoard – Interactive Classroom Solutions

Home | Lexplore | Systematic reading development

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS)

Nic Spaull | “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Mandela

Funda Wande, Teaching Reading for Meaning

Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA)


  1. Hi, My name is Kate I’m the principal at a Special school in Pretoria (Bronkhorstspruit) I’m interested in your interactive boards and anything that can improve my learners reading skills

    • Hello Kate,

      We would be delighted to provide you with more information on our interactive panels. A couple of our software offerings, especially Lexplore (discussed in this article) are specifically effective at addressing and improving reading skills for all learners.

      One of our dedicated sales team will be in touch with you to discuss further.

      Best wishes,

      A Wise EduBird


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