Makhanda's Miracle: A Beacon of Hope in South Africa's Education Crisis

40% of Grade 4 children in Makhanda are able to read for meaning, more than double the national rate of just 19% (PIRLS 2021).  That is to say, 2 out of 5 Grade 4 children in Makhanda are reading for meaning, whereas less than 1 out of 5 South African children demonstrate this ability. In simpler terms, the city excels far beyond the national average, to the extent that it almost seems as if Makhanda is situated in a different, more literate country. These remarkable results emerged from a recent study led by GADRA Education in partnership with the Rhodes University Department of Primary & Early Childhood Education.
This study included over 1000 Grade 4 learners and every public primary school in the town. GADRA staff worked together with Bed Year 4 students to conduct assessments at 20 schools over a 4-day period in late September. Two measures were used, one being a comprehension assessment and the other Oral Reading Fluency (ORF). Comprehension measures assess a learners’ ability to extract meaning from text. ORF measures assess a learner's level of reading fluency which is widely accepted as a key element of early reading, creating a bridge to comprehension. Mirroring PIRLS assessment, children were tested in the Language of Learning and Teaching of the Foundation Phase of their schooling.
“The involvement of our final year Bachelor of Education students in this research project has provided an invaluable service-learning opportunity as they prepare to begin their teaching careers” comments Dr Lise Westaway, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Education at Rhodes University, and member of the research team. Dr Westaway goes on to note that; “the research team, including members from GADRA and Rhodes, are currently working together to develop a deep understanding of the rich data. The data will be analysed to meaningfully guide local, contextualised attempts to address literacy challenges and enhance positive outcomes.”
Congratulations to the top performing school in Makhanda, Victoria Primary School where 100% of their Grade 4 learners are able to read for meaning. The top performing no-fee school in Makhanda (with an impressive two-thirds of learners able to read for meaning) is Good Shepherd Primary School followed closely by St Mary’s RC Primary School. Both Good Shepherd and St Mary’s are GADRA partner schools.
Mr. Thulani Wana, Principal of Good Shepherd Primary School, commented: “It has been very useful for us to be involved in this research project as we have been able to see where our learners stand in relation to the rest of the town for the first time. The results have given a boost to our dedicated staff and we are all extremely proud of our learner’s achievements. Our school has been fortunate to benefit from a wonderful range of support provided by the Good Shepherd Trust, Rhodes University, GADRA and others. Thanks to these valuable partnerships our learners benefit from many academic and extra mural opportunities which all contribute to our shared success.”
The impressive overall results of the study underscore the widespread impact of collective efforts, which are reshaping the city into an educational powerhouse. Makhanda is rapidly gaining recognition as the foremost educational center in the Eastern Cape.
The success story of Makhanda serves as a beacon of hope for South Africa. In the end, it's a testament to the potential that lies within every community, no matter how challenging the circumstances. With the right commitment, resources, and a shared determination to provide quality education for all, we can overcome the most daunting educational obstacles.