Functional literacy is the gateway to all learning, including numeracy. However, the majority of children in South Africa’s poorest areas are unable to read with comprehension after five years of schooling. Through its broad-based Legacy Literacy Programme, VW For Good’s goal is for all learners in Uitenhage to be functionally literate by the end of grade 3.
Language, literature and communication are crucial for social cohesion, as well as for the development of children’s imagination, empathy and critical-thinking skills. All academic performance over the course of a child’s lifetime depends on early literacy development. However, South African children – particularly those in poor and rural areas – show extremely concerning numeracy capabilities. By the time they reach grade 4, children should be moving from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. However, around 80% of South African children in public schools are not able to read with comprehension after five years of schooling.
Establishing the extent of the problem
The VW For Good Literacy Programme was launched in 2015. To establish what would be required by such a programme, VW For Good consulted with key non-profit organisations (NPO) in the sector, universities and academics, the Department of Basic Education, parents, teachers, school governing bodies and the community at large. In 2016, a baseline study was conducted in partnership with Rhodes University and the University of South Africa in seven primary schools in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, to assess whether children in grade 3 are able to read accurately, at a steady pace and with meaning in their home language, and whether their classrooms provide an enabling environment for literacy development.
The study revealed that literacy levels in these schools were one to two years below expected standards, which makes the transition to grade 4 (intermediate phase schooling) and higher grades even harder. One of the main contributing factors to this problem was weak teacher content knowledge and pedagogical skill. There was also a lack of books and book corners in each of the schools assessed.
Designing a comprehensive intervention
Using the results and recommendations indicated in the study, VW For Good has designed and implemented a comprehensive literacy intervention in five Uitenhage primary schools. The goal of the project is to ensure that learners are functionally literate by the time they reach age 10, or grade 3.
In order to be effective, any literacy project must include a spectrum of interventions aimed at addressing the broader environment in which these children grow up and they learn to read. VW For Good has therefore partnered with three organisations that focus on different aspects of literacy and learning: Shine Literacy, Edupeg and Nal’ibali National Literacy.
Through these partnerships, VW For Good has created a literacy programme which is aimed at empowering learners, teachers, parents and caregivers. The programme equips learners with the resources necessary to be able to read with meaning and equips teachers, parents and caregivers with the skills needed to support their children in the classroom and at home.
Partnering for success
Learner interventions: Shine Literacy and Nal’iBali
Shine Literacy provides individualised support to children in grades 2 and 3 who are at risk of falling behind. Children are paired with a trained volunteer with whom they work once or twice a week during the school day, over a period of at least one year. Shine also ensures that classrooms are equipped with multicultural age-appropriate storybooks to promote a culture of reading throughout the school. Paired and shared partnerships enable younger children to receive help and mentorship from older learners within their schools.
VW For Good has partnered with Shine to implement this method in its five supported schools, as well as to open a Shine Chapter at Ntlemeza Primary School, launched in March 2017. The aim is to open a literacy centre at each of the five schools.
Nal’ibali is a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign to spark children’s potential through storytelling and reading. The organisation distributes bilingual supplements that provide children with access to free and relevant reading material that will inspire a lifelong love of reading. Nal’ibali also organises story times and reading clubs at schools, early childhood development (ECD) centres, as well as within the broader communities.
Teacher intervention: Teach Like a Champion
Edupeg is an education NPO that focuses on improving teacher quality at primary school level. The Edupeg team of teacher-mentors visits primary schools to provide sustained mentorship and support for teachers in their own classrooms.
The training enables teachers to better manage their classrooms, plan lessons, engage and motivate their learners.
Parent and caregiver intervention: Shine Literacy Family Workshops
These workshops equip parents and caregivers with the knowledge and skills to help them better support learning in their homes. Parents are taught to value their existing knowledge and encouraged to embrace their vital role in their children’s education. The workshops provide tips, practical ideas and new resources for making learning in the home fun and enjoyable.
Literacy programmes and workshops for pregnant women have also been initiated at four clinics.
Ensuring conducive learning environments
VW For Good strives to ensure that children come to view their schools as bright and happy places of learning. All five schools are clean and functional, with painted walls and working lights, and many of the company’s employee volunteer activities are aligned to this. For example, Volkswagen employees have been involved in installing mobile and container libraries, painting schools, and creating reading corners at schools and community centres.
VW For Good’s annual Literacy Conference further drives the company’s belief in the importance of literacy and primary school education. The aim of the conference is to highlight the important role of functional literacy at a foundation phase, for improving overall education outcomes. It also offers a platform to share best practice and provides opportunities for collaboration among educational specialists, NPOs, government and civil society.
Reach of the Literacy Programme
Since it is still in its developmental phase, VW For Good has not yet conducted a full evaluation of the programme. However, the reach of the various interventions is already exciting.
To date, VW For Good has installed 22 mobile libraries at the schools and communities in Uitenhage in which the company operates. Shine Literacy workshops have reached 786 learners in the area, and 33 learners are currently part of the Shine Literacy Hour Programme at Ntlemeza School. By the end of 2017, there will be six operational Shine Family Literacy Workshops and associated clinic literacy programmes in Uitenhage.
Together with Nal’ibali, VW For Good has supported the creation of 25 reading clubs at the five schools in the programme, and another 11 reading and ‘story play’ clubs at ECD and community centres in Uitenhage. Edupeg’s Teach Like a Champion workshops have reached 30 teachers which, in turn, has directly improved the teaching of 1 332 learners.
Teachers and principals alike have commented on how useful the programme has been in creating a more disciplined and cooperative classroom environment.
A corporate culture of promoting literacy
Driven by the belief that a functionally literate child is the building block of a healthy and whole community, Volkswagen wants to help communities raise children who do well at school, are confident, and enjoy reading. The company looks forward to conducting a follow-up baseline test towards the end of 2017, in order to demonstrate the outcomes and impact of its comprehensive, balanced and holistic Literacy Programme.
VW Community Trust
041 994 4399 www.vwcommunitytrust.co.za