Literacy is absolutely vital to a child’s ability to properly engage with what they are being taught in all of their lessons at school. Children who are unable listen, read, speak, write and understand effectively, are going to miss out on most of what school has to offer them.
In South Africa, proficiency in English is useful to all children for the purposes of general communication, but is absolutely critical for students who are taught in English. Unfortunately, overcrowded classrooms often mean that children who are struggling (often due to not being Home Language English speakers) do not get the support that they need and therefore fall further and further behind. This is why starting a Literacy Centre could provide the much needed support that children need to get the most out of their schooling.
The strength of your programme will depend upon carefully cultivating the relationship with your partner school, nurturing a healthy volunteer base and choosing learning material that will stimulate children’s love for learning.
Your Literacy Programme will depend heavily on volunteer involvement, and is also an opportunity for members of your church to physically get involved in social justice. Therefore, the school that you choose to work with should be located relatively near to your local church, but should also be a school that possesses the need for English Literacy intervention.
Consider choosing to partner with a school that:
- Teaches in a Home Language other than English in the Foundation Phase, then switches to English as its Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) in Grade 4.
- Is a school at which the LOLT is English, but there are a number of children at the school whose Home Language is not English and therefore need support to navigate having English as their LOLT.
Connecting and Working with Schools
Relationship is absolutely key here, and it should be characterised by genuine care, respect and humility. It is so important to build a trust relationship with the school so that you are viewed as an organisation which honours and supports the school and its leadership; always remember that the Principal and teachers are professionals who should be respected.
Here are some activities you could engage in to initiate your relationship with the school:
- Arrange for a volunteer team to do classroom or school grounds clean-up.
- Provide or encourage gifts for each member of staff.
- Partner with an already-established NGO operating in the school which has developed credibility with the school.
The next step is to communicate with your partner school your desire to start a Literacy Centre. Be sure to communicate clearly with the school and only to make promises that you are sure you can deliver on. It is always better to start small and to grow steadily, rather than to over-commit and find yourself letting the school down.
It is a good idea to communicate as widely as possible with school staff in order to ensure that awareness is created around your presence in the school, and also to ensure that there is transparency in communicating the selection of the age-group you will be working with for the programme, as well as your choice of specific learners within that age group.
Personal question/reflection: Are you generally more task-orientated or more relational? Both of these qualities have their value in the context of managing a Literacy Centre, but you will need to draw on your relational strengths in order to cultivate a meaningful relationship with the school.
Deciding on a Curriculum / Programme
If your Literacy Centre is going to run during school hours, it is important to use a programme that is fully-aligned with the curriculum requirements of the grade(s) you are working with. We chose Shine’s Literacy Programme material for the following reasons:
- It caters specifically to the requirements of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) and has the Western Cape Education Department’s stamp of approval.
- It is a fun, interactive programme that makes learning a joy.
- The programme’s content is well-organised and prescriptive, so that volunteers do not need to have any kind of teaching qualification in order to effectively work through the content with children.
- For more information on the Shine Programme, visit: www.shineliteracy.org.za
Core Principle: We deliberately chose to use a programme that is well-established and has credibility within our local Education Department as we are very aware that we are accountable to deliver a programme that fully complies with the National Curriculum.
Selecting learners for the programme
- Choosing an age-group to work with
We have found that a key age group to work with in terms of English Literacy intervention is children who are in Grade 2 and 3. We keep our children on the programme for 2 years (i.e. their Grade 2 and 3 year). Our reasons for this are as follows:
- It is always better to consolidate an educational foundation, rather than to try and intervene further along the line. A school may identify that their Grade 6 and 7 learners are struggling (or that the Grade 12 students at the local high school are not doing well), however, the more effective, long-term strategy would be to offer support in the Foundation Phase, so that those learners have a firm academic foundation in place as they progress to higher grades.
- Many children in South Africa do not necessarily have access to Grade R schooling, therefore, their first exposure to structured learning is in Grade 1. It is important to allow children to develop a strong foundation in their Home Language in Grade 1, before effective English Literacy intervention can take place.
- In some schools, children are taught in their Home Language in the Foundation Phase (Grade 1 – 3), but then need to switch to English as their LOLT in Grade 4. As a result, the key time for intervention is just before this switch happens. If your programme can offer children exposure to English Literacy skills for 2 years before the switch happens, they will be far better prepared to deal with this.
- The aim of our programme is not only to see children grow academically, but we are also very mindful of the fact that we are working with children at a key stage in their development of a sense of self, as well as their attitude towards others and the world around them. We also have a key opportunity to cultivate in children the love of learning and reading which is so critical to them continuing to seek out educational opportunities.
Method of identifying learners within this age group
Consider the following factors when choosing which particular grades to work with:
- Consider at which ability level you will choose to pitch your programme. The context of your school will play an important part in determining this.
- Remember that your volunteers are not educational specialists, and are not equipped to work with children who may have severe barriers to learning. Therefore, it is a good idea to choose to work with children who are experiencing difficulty in their understanding of English, but have shown evidence of being able to learn in English.
- We use the Shine assessments to assess the whole of Grade 1 in November each year, in order to choose the children we will work with. These children will then participate in our programme for the duration of their Grade 2 and 3 years.
Communicating the selection of children
- Once you have selected the children you will be working with, communicate this in writing to the Principal and teachers in the relevant grade.
- It is also necessary to communicate the selection of learners to their parents. It is also a good idea to obtain parents’ permission to photograph their children during sessions, so that you can create awareness of your programme via a social media platform, and even recruit volunteers in this manner.
Venue and Resources
If your programme is going to be running during school time, it is best to operate from the school’s premises.
In order for the programme to work well, you will need a space that it allocated to you for the time that your Literacy Centre sessions are run. Ask the school if there is a room in the school building or simply on the premises that can be solely allocated to you. This is first prize, as it means that you would be able to set up your Literacy Centre, store all of your resources in it and have everything ready for use each day.
Alternatively, if the venue is used by another group or member of staff when your Literacy Centre is not running, arrange to have a lockable cupboard in the room in which you can safely store resources and learners’ documents.
Should you choose to partner with Shine, you will receive their learning material which includes their series of graded Word Play Games, as well as a list of other resources and stationery items that are required to make the programme work. You will also need to source good quality second-hand or new Graded Readers and story books for your programme. Consider contacting NGOs that supply these kinds of materials (Biblionef is an example of this) and see whether they are able to supply you with a donation of books to start with.
Core principle: We ensure that the resources and books that we use in our programme are in a good condition. When we ask for book donations, for instance, we specifically ask for books to be donated that “look new”. We do this as we believe that all children like to use materials that are in good condition, and it also cultivates in children a sense of respect for books and a desire to look after them.
Your volunteer base is the most critical aspect of your programme. Without a healthy, happy, committed group of volunteers, even the best programme in the world cannot run. Therefore, it is critical to be intentional about maintaining the health of your volunteer base. Here are some ideas for recruiting and keeping volunteers:
To recruit volunteers:
- Use the various connection platforms at your church to invite volunteer involvement: church news bulletins / websites, an announcement in connect group, flyers at your Information Desk etc.
- Start a Facebook page for your organisation and invite volunteer involvement.
- Ask local schools if you can put an electronic flyer in their newsletters, or supply them with hard copies of flyers to hand out.
To keep volunteers:
- Make sure volunteers understand the Why behind the What: if volunteers can see that you believe in what you are doing and understand the reason for the programme and your approach to it, they are more likely to get behind your vision and comply with what you require of them.
- Communicate clearly and regularly: be decisive in your communication and ensure that volunteers feel well-informed. We run a 5-minute volunteer briefing to encourage and inform volunteers at the beginning of each session, communicate Term Dates for each term well in advance and ensure that any changes or important announcements are communicated timeously via email, or by sms if at short-notice.
- Provide comprehensive training: volunteers will want to feel that they are well-equipped to work with children. We ask new volunteers to shadow one Literacy Centre Session and then to attend a 90-minute comprehensive training in the programme’s material before they begin teaching.
- Show that you care: get to know your volunteers, take an interest in them and encourage them as often as possible. When a volunteer can see that you really care for them as a person and not just for the function they perform, you will see their commitment to your cause intensify.
Do your best to be diligent about creating structure and systems for the things you are able to control in your Literacy Centre. Remember that, at times, things may not be as controlled in the general school environment – this is okay. One of the points in our Volunteer Code of Conduct is that “We are prepared to roll with the punches”. This means that we expect to encounter regular curveballs as we aim to support a school that faces many challenges, however, we resolve to press on and move forward, despite challenges, knowing that we are called to make a difference in this community.
Therefore, once you have your basic ducks in a row, don’t hesitate – get started!
Won Life Literacy Centre