Bright new ideas to promote literacy in the time of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has unsettled learning in different ways. It has disrupted schooling and slammed the breaks on many after-school literacy programmes.

Considering that 78% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language[1], after-school programmes play an important role in helping children with gaps in their foundational literacy.

“If not addressed, these gaps become more pronounced in later years, contributing to poor academic outcomes and learner disengagement,” says Pumza Ndamase, Project Lead of the Reading for Meaning Programme.

This situation is feeding our country’s dropout crisis because learners who fall behind academically are at higher risk of not returning to school. When after-school programmes are placed on hold or scaled down, these at-risk learners are unable to access a much-needed support system.

“This is why it’s important to remind parents and caregivers that they also have a vital role to play in supporting their child’s learning journey,” Ndamase explains.

“The support of a caring adult can take different forms, such as reading with a child or initiating conversations about the child’s interests,” she adds.

However, due to complex socio-economic factors, many parents and caregivers don’t always know how to spot when their child is having difficulty with their reading.

Around 750 million adults around the world, two-thirds of whom are women, lack basic reading and writing skills[2] Adult literacy rates are lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia[3]

“Current adult literacy statistics illustrate why it’s essential to empower parents and caregivers with the tools they need to support their child’s learning, regardless of their own educational background,” adds Ndamase.

Reading for Meaning is an accelerated catch-up programme for Grade 5 learners, implemented by mentors and volunteers who run group reading sessions after school. The programme’s methodology of ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ (TaRL) focuses on a child’s learning needs rather than their age or grade.

“During the nationwide hard lockdown, we designed stories, activities, audiobooks and instructional videos for parents and caregivers — all of which are accessible online and via WhatsApp for free,” says Ndamase.

“We want to ensure that parents and caregivers know how to assess their child’s reading skills, are able to provide constructive feedback, and can make reading a fun activity to do at home,” Ndamase concludes.

Reading for Meaning is a strategic programme within the Zero Dropout Campaign. For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Zero Dropout Campaign Communications Lead Rahima Essop.