Theme: “Reading 4 Meaning”
Mr Nic Spaull – Senior Researcher, Economics Department, Stellenbosch University and Project Director of the Funda Wande Project
Professor Jonathan Jansen – Vice Chancellor and Rector, University of Free State
Dr David Nkosi – Lecturer, Department of Childhood Education, Funda Ujabulile, University of Johannesburg
Dr Guilietta Harrison – Director, Centre for Social Development, Rhodes University
Brett Malila – Deputy Director, Centre for Social Development, Rhodes University
Dr Jacqui Dombrack, Programme Advisor, Shine Literacy
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my singular honour and privilege to address this important gathering today namely the 3rd VW Annual Literacy Conference.
On behalf of the Department of Basic of Education (DBE), I am pleased to convey my sincere gratitude to the VW Group South Africa for funding and supporting the Sustainable Educational Projects. We are pleased that our partnership with VW South Africa is impacting on literacy endeavours of our learners. This intervention is critical for the improvement of quality of basic education as a whole.
Programme Director; today’s event is important on two fronts, firstly to acknowledge the contributions made by our key partner, VW South Africa. Secondly, this event is also significant because it highlights the importance of developing the skill of “reading for meaning” in the early years of a child’s life and to encourage support for quality basic education.
In our last ditch effort to achieve the desired outcomes on literacy, we launched the 1000 School Libraries Campaign and the Read-to-Lead Campaign. The aim of the 1000 School Libraries Campaign is to revitalise/and or make available 1 000 School Libraries per year in all needy schools from 2015 until 2019. At the last count, we already had reached 4500 libraries. To complement this ambitious programme, we launched the Read-to-Lead campaign to kick-start a reading revolution in schools and beyond.
These two interrelated flagship programmes are designed in order to mobilise resources and support from various sectors of society around the enormous task of improving the educational experience of learners across the system.
In this regard, we have successfully launched the Read-to-Lead Literacy Ambassador Programme. As an important part of the Read-to-Lead Campaign, eminent personalities in sport, music, art, culture, literature, community development and other fields have been asked to support the development of a reading culture among youth and the community as a whole by pledging to be reading ambassadors.
Our singular focus is making reading fashionable again. If we make reading a lifestyle of our children and adults, South Africa will become an oasis of intellectual snobs in a positive sense of the word.
Our focus for the 1000 School Libraries Campaign is on the underserviced areas that are more likely to be populated by learners from underprivileged communities. This is our quest to bridge the divide between rich and poor schools.
As a Department of Basic Education, we are driven by the Goals 1 to 6, 16 and 24 of the “Action Plan to 2019: Towards the realisation of schooling 2030”.
Let me explain each of these goals for the benefit of those outside the basic education sector.
Goal 1: Increase the number of learners in Grade 3 who, by the end of the year, have mastered the minimum language and numeracy competencies for Grade 3.
Goal 16: improve the professionalism, teaching skills and subject knowledge of teachers throughout their entire careers.
Goal 24: Ensure that the physical infrastructure and environment of every school inspire learners to want to come to school and learn, and teachers to teach.
But, why so much focus on literacy? Ladies and gentlemen, based on all the available evidence it is clear that weak academic foundations are to blame for higher than normal dropout rate amongst 16 to 18 year-olds in South Africa.
Research has concluded that improving the generally very low levels of language and mathematics competencies in the Foundation Phase (grades R to 3) requires both fixing the overall functionality of the school, and running interventions aimed at changing teaching practices in the classroom.
At the macro level, literacy has been declared a fundamental human right. So today’s event is also important because it speaks directly to the core of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Council (UNESCO) which has declared literacy as a human right, and a tool of personal empowerment. UNESCO further says literacy is a springboard for social and human development. It insists that literacy is at the heart of basic education for all and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development. The outcome of a good quality basic education is to equip learners with literacy skills for life and further learning.
The ANC-led Government developmental blueprint, the National Development Plan (NDP) implores us to improve the performance of the South African education system.
On top of the NDP policy injunction is that we must improve Literacy, Numeracy/Mathematics and Science outcomes. It further enjoins us to improve learners’ performance in international comparative studies. It calls upon the whole basic education sector to stem the tide of learner drop outs. These goals will require improvements in other areas such as infrastructure, teacher deployment for them to have requisite impact on the education system as whole.
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the biggest developmental challenges facing South Africa today is the high number of learners who do not learn to “read for meaning” in the early years of school. Yet, it often said that reading is the foundational skill on which all others are built.
In this regard, we have signed a pledge of commitment towards the improvement of reading in South African schools.
The recent launch of the Early Grade Reading Study Report reaffirmed that poor literacy is a contributing factor in poor learner outcomes. This is in line with the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS 2011) which found that 58% of children were not learning to read for meaning by grade 4. It has also been observed that poor reading proficiency is one of the root causes of school dropout in grades 10-12.
There has been growing consensus that the most efficient and cost-effective way to respond to these challenges is by improving the reading acquisition of learners at the start of schooling. The DBE and Provincial Education Departments (PDEs) are implementing various strategies to support early grade reading. It is too early to replicate and universalise some success models from these various interventions.
From the Early Grade Reading Study Report, we have identified a few recommendations which will assist in creating a way forward for the DBE:
- Structured programmes with coaches help;
- Coaching is the best alternative;
- Direct in-service training is better than train-the-trainer models; and
- Develop reading norms in the African languages.
Programme Director; it is partnerships such as this one with the VW Group South Africa which is a great avenue to realise this vision of the DBE by supporting the following projects:
- Literacy Projects / provision of Teacher Training;
- Establish Literacy Centres in selected primary schools for learners;
- Provide training and coaching for the literacy;
- Provide learning resources and reading materials;
- Improve the facilities; and
- Strengthen stakeholder collaboration & alignment and sharing best practice.
Programme Director, it is gratifying to note that since we made a call to make reading/literacy and Library Services a national priority, we have received generous support from the private sector companies beyond those already part of the NECT.
Indeed, we are a country at work. South Africa is a better place today than it was 22 years ago. I want to emphasise yet again that the most effective partnerships are where partners not only enrich each other but also find ways where they can mutually benefit. Our partnership with your organisations fits faultlessly within this framework of a mutually beneficial symbiosis. A mutualistic relationship is when two organisms of different species "work together," each benefiting from the relationship.
We therefore owe a debt of gratitude to the bright sparks at VW South Africa in partnership with Nal’ibali who daily work effortlessly to change the lives of those communities in which they work.
I thank you.