Early-grade reading support in rural South Africa: A language-centred technology approach

Nathan Matthew Castillo, Daniel A. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article describes a short-term longitudinal study conducted in low-performing rural primary schools in South Africa. The authors were involved in developing a two-year multimedia reading programme for rural South African children in grades 1–3, and sought to assess key learning outcomes in existing school computer laboratories. The programme provided interactive local-language support in three local languages plus English, with content designed to be culturally appropriate and contextually relevant for the target group. The study tracked a total of 215 learners, some of whom used the programme once a week for its duration, while a control group did not. Findings revealed a positive and significant impact on local-language reading fluency and reading comprehension among the children who had used the instructional software. The outcome demonstrates nearly three-quarters of a year of additional reading growth compared to reading growth at control schools within the sample, as well as a twofold increase in reading comprehension in the treatment group. The study demonstrates that technology-based reading support can help rural learners in South Africa to make substantive gains so they can complete their schooling. The ability to accomplish a full cycle of primary school with well-developed reading skills has important implications for lifelong learning. The authors argue that guided and contextualised instructional software can lead to enhanced learning outcomes compared to unguided digital content or traditional teacher support alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-408
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Review of Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019


  • Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI)
  • Language
  • Learning assessment
  • Literacy
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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