Original Research

‘Failing to progress’ or not being supported to make progress? Examining variability in reading

Belden Liswaniso
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 13, No 1 | a1315 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v13i1.1315 | © 2023 Belden Liswaniso | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 January 2023 | Published: 29 August 2023

About the author(s)

Belden Liswaniso, Department of Intermediate and Vocational Education, Faculty of Education and Human Sciences, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia; and Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, Faculty of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: By Grade 4, learners should be able to read fluently and comprehend reading materials at their grade level. However, many learners in Africa, particularly in the Namibian context, seem to go through the primary phase with poor reading skills.

Aim: This article examines the overall reading growth of Grade 5 learners, and then disaggregates performance according to grade age level and older Grade 5 learners in intervention and control schools.

Setting: Data for this study were collected from four low performing schools in the Zambezi Region of north-eastern Namibia.

Methods: Data are drawn from a quasi-experimental study in which teachers in intervention schools were provided with ongoing support over 4 months to enhance their content and pedagogical knowledge about reading, with the ultimate goal of improving Grade 5 learners’ reading outcomes.

Results: While reading scores were generally low across the schools, differential effects in terms of age clearly emerged. Significant differences emerged between grade-appropriate age groups (10 and 11-year-olds) and older learners (12–16-year-olds) in all the assessments, with older learners, expected to be cognitively more mature, showing the least progress. The results also showed better progress across age groups in intervention schools than in control schools.

Conclusion: The findings indicate that explicit reading instructional practices can lead to significant gains in reading even among learners showing low reading scores in poor schooling contexts.

Contribution: This study contributes to the knowledge of the factors that influence reading progress and learning among children in low-performing schools in low socioeconomic contexts.


reading age effects; word reading; decoding; oral reading fluency; reading comprehension; reading intervention


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