Today marks the 51st International Literacy Day as declared by Unesco on the 8th September 1965. Many of us take the gift of reading and writing for granted, but there are literally millions of adults in South Africa who can’t read and write at all, and still more who are deemed only ‘functionally literate’. One major problem in the reporting of literacy statistics in South Africa is that the annual General Household Survey, which measures living conditions in SA, defines anyone older than fifteen with a Grade 7 or higher qualification as literate. What the survey doesn’t take into account is that with overcrowded classrooms, under-resourced schools, and absent or overworked parents, children sometimes slip through the cracks. It is not uncommon for children to go through the schooling system, reaching Grade 7 and beyond, without being able to properly read and write.
To assist schools struggling under the burden of too may learners and not enough resources, programmes like The Link Literacy Project work in conjunction with participating schools and the Department of Education in an effort to bridge the gap. Founded in 2010, The Link works on a volunteer basis, recruiting people who have a few hours a week to spare to sit with Grade 2 and 3 learners and go through various reading and writing exercises. The idea is that they work with children young enough to act as ‘sponges’ for language, but who have already received the basics. The programme works predominantly with second or third language English speakers, children who are struggling with having to learn to read in a language that is not their home language, placing them at a massive disadvantage. The programme, which also teaches numeracy, is structured in such a way that even people with no previous teaching experience are able to help teach a child to read, with only very basic training provided by The Link. It is an inspiring programme with wonderful results: the nearly 500 children who were tested as part of the programme at the beginning of 2015 received an average test score for reading of 55%; nine months later the average score had increased to 85%!
While the state of education in South Africa leaves a lot to be desired, things are improving one step at a time with the help of organisations like the Creating Schools Programme and the Link Literacy Project. The 2015/2016 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index ranked South Africa 126 out of 144 countries in terms of the quality of our primary education, a little terrifying, but still an improvement on the 2014 statistics, which placed South Africa 132nd.
Photograph courtesy of uk2learn.com