The National Development Plan's target is to improve early childhood literacy by 2030. According to the plan, improving early nutrition has been shown to increase school attainment by up to one grade and adult earnings by up to 40%.
In line with this plan help2read, a non-profit organisation which focuses on improving literacy in primary schools around Gauteng and the Western Cape, and is about to reach out throughout South Africa. help2read is applying its simple, yet highly effective reading programme in a developing country such as South Africa where the capacity and affordability of trained teachers is limited.
Concern about assessment results
Last year's national assessment results, compiled by the Department of Basic Education, revealed that for literacy only 21% of the Grade 3 learners showed competence in comprehension. The results highlight that the Grade 3 learners assessed have a problem understanding written text. "Some of our initial sample group assessments done here at help2read in 2011 showed that none of the Grade 3 learners selected to participate in the programme read at the required level," says Candice Swart, regional manager of help2read. After an average of seven months, during which the learners received assistance from a help2read volunteer, 67.5% of the learners read at or above grade level.
The national assessment results also revealed that of the Grade 4 learners who wrote the literacy test, only 49% could understand what they were reading and that learners tested from Grades 1 to 3 performed better than Grade 4 to 6 learners.
Swart says that volunteers undergo training and are equipped with the necessary tools to identify and assist children who show signs of not understanding what they are reading. Volunteers encourage children to use reading clues such as pictures and the initial sounds of words to understand the meaning of text.
Early identification is crucial
"Early childhood development is critical for children to reach their full potential and literacy skills are needed in all aspects of life, so it is crucial to identify literacy challenges from a very young age," says Swart.
Organisations such as help2read play an important role in supporting teachers and improving literacy amongst primary school children whose second language is English. "We would like to expand to Pretoria as there is need for assistance in some schools, but funding remains one of our biggest obstacles," says Swart.
Donations from sponsors, no matter how big or small, whether it is money, books or board games would be appreciated. If you want to become a donor or volunteer, contact help2read on +27 (0)11 026 2663 or email . Go to www.help2read.org for more information.
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