Shine centres combat low literacy rates at schools

2013-09-08 06:01

When Sihle Mncini started Grade 1 at Observatory Junior Primary in 2001 he could not speak English, never mind reading and writing it, but now, 12 years later, he has his eyes set on a BCom degree.

Mncini (19) from Khayelitsha, Cape Town, overcame his early struggles with English in his early years thanks to the Shine Centre – a nonprofit organisation that assists learners in the foundation phase to read and write.

Mncini said: “The programme (Shine Centre) improved my literacy. My vocabulary, my writing, reading and spelling improved.”

Like Mncini, Simamye Matafeni could not speak English when his parents moved him from a rural Eastern Cape school to Observatory Junior for his Grade 3 year in January.

Now, eight months later, the Shine Centre has brought him up to speed and he can read and write in English, allowing him to progress in numeracy as well.

He is currently one of 437 children from disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape who are benefiting from the programme offered in 11 schools thanks to over 200 volunteers, many of them retired teachers.

During a visit to one of the participating schools, Prestwich Primary in Greenpoint, Cape Town, pupils could be seen in pairs with a volunteer teaching them to read and write. The pupils were glued to the books, pronouncing words as taught by the volunteer.

Shine Centre founder and executive director Maurita Glyn Weissenbergh said the first Shine Centre was established at Observatory Junior in 2000 after seeing the need for early intervention to establish literacy in the foundation phase, which gave children the confidence they needed to progress through the rest of their schooling.

“The gap at that stage is small and you can quickly make a difference to the young child’s reading and confidence,” said Weissenbergh.

Should inadequate literacy not be addressed in the foundation phase, the problem would only escalate in the upper grades, becoming ever more difficult to address.

Shine Centres now operate in eight schools in the Western Cape, with a further four social franchises working from the model in a further three Western Cape schools and one in Durban.

There are also nine literacy centres where people train in the Shine Centre model, which focuses on paired reading, shared reading, word games and writing.

It offers literacy classes to children as an extramural activity in community centres and churches in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Grahamstown, Stanford and Port Elizabeth.

The Shine Centre and its offshoots operate against a national average percentage mark for first additional language among Grade 3 learners of 35% in 2012, with Grade 9 learners also achieving only 35%.

The home language mark among Grade 3s was 52% and among Grade 9s it was lower, at 43%.

2012 mathematics levels for Grade 3 came in at 41%, dropping to a shocking 13% for Grade 9s.

These Annual National Assessment results were “very low as compared with the rest of the world”, said director of teaching and learning at the University of the Western Cape, Professor Vivienne Bozalek.

“People are very concerned about low levels of literacy in the country. There is a lot of money that’s put into education, but the difference is those who already have resources are advantaged with regards to education,” said Bozalek.

The poor literacy and numeracy abilities among South African schoolchildren led to only 25% of students at universities graduating within the required time, which was particularly concerning given those entering university were the top 10% of school academic achievers.

Weissenbergh said although the introduction of Grade R classes and the new Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements was helping to improve literacy rates, factors contributing to poor results were that the language of instruction was often not in the child’s home language, there was poor access to age-appropriate reading material, insufficient time given to allow foundation-phase children to read and write, and substandard teaching in some schools.

She said pupils did not necessarily have learning problems, they just needed time to learn.

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