Despite considerable government and private investment into the formal teaching and learning of literacy at schools, as well as the informal promotion of literacy in communities, the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that eight out of 10 or 78% of South African children in grade four could not read for meaning in any language. The same study ranked South Africa last out of 50 countries for literacy. Volkswagen SA has been on a journey since 2015 to ensure that children in Uitenhage are functionally literate by the end of grade three. The company’s approach to this focus area has expanded from the recognition that literacy is the cornerstone of quality education and the gateway to numerical competency, to advocating for the support of literacy as a social justice imperative.
Volkwagen SA partnered with the Literacy Association of South Africa (LITASA) – an organisation dedicated to promoting teaching and research in reading and writing at all levels in South African society – to present the LITASA Conference in October 2018. Themed ‘literacy as a social justice imperative’, the conference provided a creative space for education experts to interrogate the findings and implications of the PIRLS, learn about new projects and innovative approaches to literacy, reflect on lessons learnt in the field, and strengthen the sector network.
Equitable access to quality education
In order to have equitable access to wealth, opportunities and privileges in society, children must first have equitable access to quality education that empowers them to think critically, communicate effectively, solve problems, negotiate, innovate and plan; ultimately preparing them to participate in a rapidly evolving society and economy.
Volkswagen SA is committed to helping to ensure that these skills are acquired by children in the early stages of their lives. The company invests in early language development and functional literacy at foundation phase, at five primary schools
in Uitenhage. In collaboration with implementing partners, Volkswagen SA’s comprehensive literacy programme encompasses a spectrum of interventions that address the broader environment in which children grow up and learn to read. To this end, 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.
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty and a building block of development. Literacy is a platform for democratisation, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right. Literacy is the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential.”Kofi Annan
Volkswagen SA’s interventions for a balanced literacy programme
Volkswagen SA partners with Shine Literacy to provide individual support to children in grades two and three who are at risk of falling behind in their schooling. Children are paired with trained volunteers who support their learning weekly, for at least a year. Shine ensures that classrooms are equipped with multicultural and age-appropriate storybooks to promote a school culture of reading. A ‘paired and shared’ approach also ensures that younger children receive help and mentorship from older learners at their schools with whom they are partnered.
These interventions are implemented at the five schools that are supported by Volkswagen SA. At the start of the programme the aim was to establish literacy centres at each of the schools. The second literacy centre was opened in
2018, at Mngunube Primary. In collaboration with the school municipality, an outdoor gym and park were also donated to the school to enhance the overall learning experience.
Edufundi focuses on improving the quality of teaching at primary school level. The Edufundi team visits primary schools to provide sustained mentorship and support for teachers in their own classrooms. Through the Teach-Like-a-Champion programme, teachers are supported and mentored on a weekly basis, enabling them to manage their classrooms better, plan lessons, engage and motivate their learners.
This programme has been implemented in all five schools and has impacted 59 teachers and 2 210 learners to date.
Parent and caregiver interventions
Shine Literacy Family Workshops equip parents and caregivers with the knowledge and skills to help them support learning in the home. Parents are taught to value their existing knowledge and are 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.
To date, 250 workshops have been hosted, helping parents to deepen their connection with their children and encouraging language development through loving and responsive relationships with caregivers. In partnership with WordWorks, a further 374 Fundisanani Literacy Workshops have been hosted at six community clinics, reaching approximately 700 pregnant women.
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. The organisation also mobilises and supports a network of literacy activists to establish and run reading clubs at schools and in the broader communities and host home libraries.
Key lessons on fostering literacy
Based on its experiential insight working in the field, Volkswagen SA has identified key issues that contribute to low levels of literacy at foundation phase and encourages companies and other donors wanting to intervene in the literacy space to take the following into account when designing their interventions:
- Most public schools do not have libraries or the necessary literary resources to inspire a culture of reading for pleasure among their learners. Often the reading material that is available is not age-appropriate or written in the children’s home language.
- Current classroom conditions and pedagogical strategies do not appear to be effective in achieving required levels of literacy. Teachers must be trained to identify gaps in their learners’ literacy development and use relevant reading material effectively.
- Few homes are adequately resourced and capacitated to provide early childhood and ongoing literacy learning opportunities. Parents’ roles in their children’s literacy learning and their interactions with their children’s schools must be underscored.
Volkwagen SA plans to continue the expansion of its literacy programmes by increasing the number of literacy centres at the schools that it works with; continuing to train teachers, with specific emphasis on teaching them how to teach and assess literacy and comprehension strategies, among other aspects; and continuing to invest in the social capital of women who raise children – as mothers and caregivers, unlocking the human capital that is key to all learning.
VW Community Trust
Eastern Cape: Vernon Naidoo | 041 994 4399
Gauteng: Nobuntu Lange | 011 911 2731
Source: Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2018.