File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Education Day: Dedicated NGOs need help creating a bright literacy future for SA

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jan 24, 2020

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Cape Town – A total of 78% of Grade 3 pupils can't read for meaning, while more than 30% are illiterate. These are damning statistics – especially since R351 billion was spent on education in 2018.

Fortunately, on International Education Day, it's heartening to know there are several NGOs and non-profit companies – which need constant public support, monetary and otherwise – that are on a mission to end the illiteracy epidemic in South Africa. 

The harsh reality is the foundation for literacy is built long before a child begins Grade 1, because children from low-income families hear on average 30 million fewer words than their affluent peers by the age of three, says Help2Read.

Nor does it help that despite the government's education spend, only 45.4% of pupils have reading textbooks in KwaZulu-Natal, only 56.2% in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo 58.9%.

Help2read pointed out: "Illiteracy breeds exclusion and comes with a hefty price tag. In 2010, it was estimated that illiteracy costs South Africa R450 billion each year."

The lack of basic literacy skills, combined with a poor grasp of a second language (typically English), further inhibits the ability to master literacy skills in the transition to a second language from Grade 4.

Education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe has noted that fixing this national literacy crisis will take time and hard work, with a lack of access to reading material and textbooks two of the main reasons.

While the National Planning Commission’s National Development Plan has highlighted education as one of the country’s nine most pressing challenges, committing to improving the quality of education for all the country’s children by 2030, not nearly enough progress has been made.

“An education system has the responsibility to deliver two essential things for a just society: improve the quality of learning and narrow the gap between students doing well and students doing badly. Education improvement is a long, hard process and expectations of a sudden shift are unrealistic,” said Metcalfe.

Help2read believes the effects of this crisis will endure for decades to come. 

"Its impact is far-reaching, from sprawling city to rural farmland. It does not discriminate against age, race or class, but its destruction is felt most deeply among the poor. It is a crisis that perpetuates inequality and poverty, and has the power to bring the country to its knees."

But it's not all doom and gloom. David Harrison, of the DG Murray Trust, said: “Unlike many of our other national crises, illiteracy is one that is firmly within our power and resources to address quite quickly – and in doing so, we’ll address some of our more intractable crises like unemployment at their roots.”

"How quickly we take action today will determine the prosperity of our people and economy for decades to come, said Help2read. "We cannot afford to settle for slow progress any longer."

Metcalfe said: “The impetus for change is sustained by the belief that it is necessary, and is possible through ongoing commitment.”

Here are just a few of the organisations in the country that need to be hailed for what they are doing to curb illiteracy, and are deserving of donations and people signing up as volunteers:

Click Foundation– It deploys online English literacy programmes in under-privileged primary schools across South Africa. The programmes offer young learners the opportunity to work at their own pace through fun and enjoyable activities, navigating their learning journey by means of technology. 

In doing so, the Click Foundation is not only addressing the literacy crisis but also equipping these young learners with the technological skills required for future success. 

By the year 2024, the Click Foundation aims to be changing the trajectory of over 1 000 000 pupils’ lives through technology-based literacy and numeracy programmes. 

Read to Rise– A non-profit organisation committed to promoting youth literacy in schools in South Africa's under-resourced communities. It believes children need to read in order to rise in their personal development and contribution to society.   

"Children who love reading excel at school and go on to become constructive members of society. It all starts with reading. 

"We aim to address the troubling reality that young children in our communities are not reading as much as they require for their educational development. 

"Children in the foundational phase should be reading around 40 books per year; in our under-resourced communities children are reading only one to two books per year.

"Please support our campaign to visit every Grade 2 and 3 class in Mitchells Plain so we can conduct our programme and give a book to each learner. For only $3 (R43) a book. 

It believes book ownership is an important step towards children’s love of reading. "Children who own books and come from homes where books are available perform much better at school."

Read to Rise distributes brightly coloured, high-quality books that are educational, entertaining and inspirational. 

"Our programme introduces books into many homes for the first time, giving parents the opportunity to read with their children, and giving children the chance to share the magic of reading with siblings and friends.

"A critical part of our programme is that we do not just drop books and mini-libraries off at schools, rather, along with volunteer readers, we personally visit every classroom to which we contribute. This is central to our efforts to inspire learners."

Wordworks– It was established in 2005 with the aim of strengthening early language and literacy learning among children from historically disadvantaged communities in South Africa. 

By sharing its materials, know-how and enthusiasm with teachers, parents, volunteer tutors and home visitors, it seeks to ensure that all their children can learn to read and write successfully and have fair opportunities to reach their fullest potential. 

Wordworks currently offers three training programmes in five provinces: The Home-School Partnership Programme for parents, the Early Literacy Programme for volunteers and a Grade R story-based programme. They have also developed a Teacher Kit for use in the Foundation Phase.

They offer four programmes, focusing on children’s first eight years, which are used by their network of partners. These include preschools, schools, libraries, community organisations, training and resource NGOs, tertiary institutions, education districts and other government departments.

FunDza Literacy Trust – "Reading books and stories influences one's choices, it gives value to lives, it enhances critical and creative thinking and encourages personal development," says FunDza. 

"Reading and writing is the fundamental pillar of education. Education is the foundation of a healthy, stable, growth-oriented society.

"South Africa has a very low culture of reading. According to the latest National Reading Survey, just 14% of adult South Africans identify as committed readers."

FunDza aims to change this by creating and publishing materials that will ignite a love of reading, specifically aimed at teens and young adults who have never previously identified as readers. 

Through experimentation and research, FunDza has learned that young people are more likely to become readers if they are introduced to texts that are meaningful to them. 

Thus, creating local content that speaks to young readers’ hearts and minds, and that reflects their circumstances, is of paramount importance. 

FunDza works both with print and electronic materials to deliver relevant and exciting content.


– Its literacy intervention programmes are run at public primary schools across South Africa, and provide children who struggle to read with one-on-one attention from a volunteer Reading Helper or community Literacy Tutor. 

"Through consistent literacy input, reading help and fun activities, the children that participate in our programmes not only learn to read, they fall in love with it."

It recruits and trains unemployed, literate adults from township communities to be Literacy Tutors and deliver its literacy programme in township schools. 

The Literacy Tutors receive a stipend and participate in a personal development and work-readiness programme, helping them to secure a better future for themselves and their families.

A lack of access to literacy and reading resources is a serious challenge in South Africa, which is why it provides schools with carefully designed help2read Book Boxes. 

A treasure trove of literacy resources, its Book Boxes contain quality reading material, educational games, literacy worksheets and writing materials. 

The books and games are carefully selected to ensure they are age- and stage-appropriate, and are sometimes the only colourful resources that children have the opportunity to engage with.


 – It is built on the simple logic that a well-established culture of reading can be a real game-changer for education in South Africa.

Its campaign values the power of language and cultural relevance in literacy development. 

"For reasons relating to empowerment, pedagogy, identity and democracy, Nal’ibali fully promotes reading and writing in mother tongue languages. 

"All children and adults need to understand what they are listening to, or reading, for it to be meaningful and enjoyable – which is crucial for raising readers.

"The most inspiring part of promoting a reading culture in South Africa is that many parents, caregivers and community-based organisations are already reading and telling stories to their children. 

"Nal’ibali is about recognising and respecting the power and potential of these communities in literacy development."

Nal’ibali has established 9 837 reading clubs in nine provinces since its inception – 3 697 reading clubs are still active; a total of 115 114 children are in reading clubs; 28 113 tutors have been trained at events; and 9 252 FUNda leaders have signed up.

Cape Times

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