Could this be the answer to the education crisis in South Africa?

2013-03-28 00:00

MANY people in South Africa are concerned about low literacy levels and poor academic performance in schools and tertiary institutions. The recent publicity around matric results and poor performance in the Annual National Assessments have revealed an alarming level of literacy in schools.

The blame often falls on early grade teachers but, in fact, all teachers are language teachers — no subject, even maths, is taught without language. In the South African context, where all content subjects are taught in either English or Afrikaans from Grade 4 onwards, a method that teaches pupils to read information in all their subjects can help improve academic performance across the board.

Reading to Learn (RtL) is a literacy programme which can be used as an intervention at any level of education — from beginning readers in Grade R and Grade 1 to tertiary education and everything in-between. The RtL methodology involves simple but very effective strategies that can help pupils read the texts they encounter in all their subjects with understanding. A key aspect is that it requires no expensive materials, and uses texts that teachers are already using.

It is not only an English teaching course, but can be used in any language and in any subject. A key aspect of RtL is that every reading cycle ends in a writing exercise. Pupils, from early years up, are taught how to write stories, information texts and arguments. A high level of support allows pupils to succeed in both reading and writing, and this success breeds success.

The method has been widely used in countries like Australia, Sweden, Scotland, Portugal, Afghanistan, Kenya and Uganda. Results in Australia have shown that the use of RtL has made a significant difference in literacy levels over the past 10 years. Results in East Africa, where the programme has been run in a large number of pilot schools, are encouraging.

In KZN, a small group of teachers have been using the RtL methodology over the past six years. Recently, more teachers have been trained, and the method is being used with great success in a number of local schools, both primary and high schools,as well as in some university departments. Teachers report a renewed enthusiasm for reading and writing, and improved understanding of content subjects.

The RtL programme will be running a training course with two different time slots over the next few months in Pietermaritzburg. The course is aimed at all teachers across the curriculum and all levels of education. Retired or about-to-retire teachers, who are interested in becoming trainers, should also apply.

• Deb Avery is involved with training teachers to use the RtL programme. For more information, please contact Mike Hart at 033 346 0557 or 072 588 8521 or

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