Celebrating International Literacy Day

Donald Grant

Today we celebrate International Literacy Day – a day in which we highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. 

Central to this campaign is the promotion of literacy in our schools and amongst our youth. 

Literacy is one of the most important skills our children need in terms of their education and is the foundation upon which all further learning is built. Therefore the significance attached to the development of our young learners’ literacy skills through reading books should not be underestimated. 

It is for this reason why the Western Cape Government has made the improvement of literacy skills one of our top priorities. This has been made clear in our Strategic Plan for Education for the years 2010 to 2019, released in November 2009, which sets clear, biennial targets for improvement in literacy performance. 

In order to meet these targets, a number of interventions have been highlighted and implemented within the system. Many of these interventions focus on improving literacy outcomes, particularly at the very important Foundation Phase level, and include extensive testing of learners at the Grade 3, 6 and 9 level, the increased provision of texts in schools, and additional teacher training and development. 

This year significant progress has been made in implementing this plan. 

Next month, the Western Cape will again be testing all learners in Grades 3, 6 and 9 to assess literacy performance. The importance and scale of these tests must not be underestimated. Over 240 000 learners will take part in these tests which will inform our literacy strategy and identify schools and areas where remedial action is needed. 

The Western Cape is the only province in South Africa to implement systemic testing of this nature. It is a huge logistical exercise, but we believe that testing of learners abilities is essential and provides invaluable diagnostic assessment of the provincial education system.  

In terms of texts, the Western Cape Government has invested about R133 million for various kinds of texts in our classrooms, in addition to workbooks distributed nationally.  The WCED have procured and distributed various sets of graded readers to all classrooms in the Foundation Phase and have made an unprecedented commitment to ensure that over the next three years, every child from Grades 1-12 will have a textbook in every subject that he or she is taking. 

But critical to any improvements in performance are the educators themselves. Therefore, as part of our strategy, we have organized and developed several workshops and conferences that will contribute to the improved teaching of literacy to our learners. 

At these workshops, teachers are being briefed on where the problems lie, and what can be done to improve understanding in those specific areas. They are also being exposed to different styles of teaching, and are comparing and showcasing best practice. 

The WCED is also currently implementing recommendations made by Prof. Servaas van der Berg and his team from CPUT and the University of Stellenbosch in 2010. 

Central to these recommendations is an increased focus on the role of Foundation Phase curriculum advisors (CAs) in regularly observing classroom practice  for extended periods, specifically to observe levels of cognitive demand, pacing and time on task. Since the release of the report, Foundation Phase CAs have undergone training in effective monitoring of classroom practice. 

However, the department and educators cannot achieve success by ourselves. Parents play an important role in this strategy and we encourage them to engage with their children on their daily school activities, enquiring about what they read and wrote that day. We would also like parents to engage with their children’s teachers and ask how they can assist in building their child’s skills.

It will only be through the combined efforts of learners, educators and parents, as well as support from the WCED, that we will ensure over time that all the learners of this province will be literate at the appropriate level for their grade. 

We remain confident that with this kind of clear focus we will achieve sustainable improvements in literacy in the years to come.

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