Why is foundational literacy important in the campaign against school dropout?

The Reading for Meaning programme uses the methodology of Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL), which focuses on a child's learning needs rather than their age or grade.

The reality is that 78%1)https://nicspaull.com/2017/12/05/the-unfolding-reading-crisis-the-new-pirls-2016-results/ of children in Grade 4 cannot read for meaning in any language in South Africa. These children are likely to continue lagging behind academically if they don’t get the support they need to stay in and succeed in school.

According to South Africa’s public school policy2)https://www.news24.com/news24/columnists/guestcolumn/opinion-before-during-and-after-covid-19-an-academic-catch-up-plan-for-south-african-learner-20200619, learners are only allowed to repeat one grade in each phase of school, namely the foundation, intermediate and senior phase. Learners who fail more than once in a particular phase will progress to the next grade, even if they haven’t caught up with their peers. What we end up with are heterogeneous classrooms comprising of children who are at different levels and have different learning needs.

Research3)See Hammond, C., D. Linton, D., Smink, J & Drew, S. 2007. Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programmes: A Technical Report. National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University and Communities In Schools, Inc. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED497057.pdf; Branson. M., Hofmeyr, C. and Lam, D. 2013. Progress through School and the Determinants of School Dropout in South Africa. SALDRU Working Paper 100 Available here: http:// opensaldru.uct.ac.za/handle/11090/616; De Witte, K., Cabus, S., Thyssen, G., Groot, W. & van den Brink, H.M. 2013. A Critical Review of the Literature on School Dropout. Tier Working Paper Series: Tier WP 14/14. Available at: http://www.tierweb.nl/tier/assets/files/UM/Working%20papers/TIER%20WP%2014-14.pdfshows shows that dropout comes at the end of a long journey of disengagement in which a learner is pushed or pulled away from school. Lagging behind academically is a strong predictor of dropout.

To help learners who need extra support with their literacy skills, we launched an accelerated catch-up programme for Grade 5 learners in 2019 called “Reading for Meaning”.

The Reading for Meaning methodology teaches children at the right level by focusing on their learning needs rather than their age or grade. These after-school programmes work best when they focus on foundational reading skills that children may have missed in the classroom.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, children were enrolled in Reading for Meaning sessions in a number of schools. We have since made our stories and activities available online and via WhatsApp.

We also developed a guidebook and short instructional videos for parents to help them make reading fun at home.

Reading for Meaning is designed to stimulate creative thinking by combining Storytime with play. The games and activities help children to think out of the box, and improve their writing and fine motor skills.

References   [ + ]

1. https://nicspaull.com/2017/12/05/the-unfolding-reading-crisis-the-new-pirls-2016-results/
2. https://www.news24.com/news24/columnists/guestcolumn/opinion-before-during-and-after-covid-19-an-academic-catch-up-plan-for-south-african-learner-20200619
3. See Hammond, C., D. Linton, D., Smink, J & Drew, S. 2007. Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programmes: A Technical Report. National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University and Communities In Schools, Inc. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED497057.pdf; Branson. M., Hofmeyr, C. and Lam, D. 2013. Progress through School and the Determinants of School Dropout in South Africa. SALDRU Working Paper 100 Available here: http:// opensaldru.uct.ac.za/handle/11090/616; De Witte, K., Cabus, S., Thyssen, G., Groot, W. & van den Brink, H.M. 2013. A Critical Review of the Literature on School Dropout. Tier Working Paper Series: Tier WP 14/14. Available at: http://www.tierweb.nl/tier/assets/files/UM/Working%20papers/TIER%20WP%2014-14.pdfshows