Grade 8 (old std 6) literacy skill seems terrible , but this was where the Afrikaner and lower class English were in the 1920's .
More important , what are the variances ?
Are the smart children getting educated?
This whole problem is at root a problem of the technological age . The percentage of working population needed to produce all the hardware goods for a society is now about 5-10 percent . The rest are soaked up by civil service , soft careers like primary nursing and care for the increasing number of elderly as life-expectancies increase , trade , etc .
Only the top 10 percentile need strive for production employment or get it . And all the learners know it . Why should they bother ?
The New Model (call it the Spaza model)
Teach them redistribution of wealth skills .
Barefoot nursing , elementary computer skills (note computer tracking system developed for completely illterate San) , hairdressing (the oldest human profession ) , child-caring , etc , etc .
The successful ones will need to top up their education . Classes for these should be available on demand . This is already available in the private sector , but there are a lot of charlatans . This is where the education Dept should be focussing . The ones who want to learn and are willing to fork out money for it .
But in the meantime teach elementary survival skills to the hordes (90%) who are unemployable .
Ways of redistributing wealth that does not involve crime .
This is not just a problem in RSA . It is worldwide .
Old age care is going to become a very valuable skill . (Like an English teacher in the Far-East during 1980 - 2000 period .)
A series of reputable certificates and diplomas leading into Baccalaurate levels of old age care will become increasingly valuable . The lower levels does not even require literacy , but ascending levels will require increasing levels of literacy . Human greed will do the rest .