"An ABC plan to reach XYZ" (literacy in South Africa)
- The following item from the South African paper, Mail & Guardian, was seen
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"An ABC plan to reach XYZ"
Mail & Guardian Online
Thabo Mohlala and Cornia Pretorius
31 August 2007 11:59
For the first time since 1994 the government has rolled out a comprehensive
literacy plan and campaign, which will enable millions of people to write
their names, tell the time and understand the instructions on medicine
This follows Cabinet's approval of a R6,1-billion literacy campaign, which
is poised to make far-reaching inroads into South Africa's skills deficit.
This is the second attempt by the education ministry to try to stamp out
illiteracy: in 1999, after taking office, former education minister Kader
Asmal announced his intention to eradicate illiteracy by 2005. But this
failed to materialise.
The new literacy campaign, Kha ri gude -- Masifunde (Let us learn), which
will be spread over five years, aims to halve South Africa's number of
illiterate adults by 2015. It is based on the most extensive plan in South
Africa's history to tackle illiteracy, a serious impediment to skills
development and economic growth affecting the lives of 9,7-million people of
the country's 47-million.
It puts the country in a realistic position to achieve the education for all
goal of reducing illiteracy by half in 2015.
Duncan Hindle, director general of education, said halving illiteracy was
the immediate target, but the department could go further, getting closer to
the eradication of illiteracy if the plan got off the ground. The project
will be taken into communities where illiterate people live, allowing easy
Hindle said there "always" had been the political will to tackle illiteracy,
but there was no plan. "Now we have a credible plan, which turned the
political will into commitment and funding."
The credibility of the plan, he said, emanated from the fact that it was
well researched and was based on best practices internationally. It was not
about "just another directorate" in the department.
Education Minister Naledi Pandor appointed a ministerial committee on
literacy (MCL) last year, which did the research and participated in a study
tour that involved visits to New Zealand, Venezuela and Cuba.
These countries have had effective adult literacy education programmes. They
eradicated adult illiteracy, despite their poor infrastructure and economic
resources. Both New Zealand and Venezuela are believed to have modelled
their own literacy initiatives on Cuba's successful recipe, where the
literacy campaigns started immediately after the revolution in 1959. In
South Africa it has taken 13 years for a plan to be formulated.
Hindle said the economic benefits to individuals and the country would
provide momentum to South Africa's literacy campaign.
In addition, Pandor pulled in some of the veteran literacy experts, who
served on the committee, to work with the department in the execution of the
Veronica McKay, director of Unisa's Adult Basic Education and Training
(Abet) Institute, has been seconded to the department to help develop
teaching and learning materials and to train teachers.
McKay has experience in "scale", reaching up to 300 000 illiterate adults
and doing this at a cost of as little as R300 per learner.
Similarly, John Aitchison, head of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Centre
for Adult Education, has been seconded to deal with systems, including
setting up necessary computer systems to track learners, buildings and human
Obert Maguvhe, of the South African National Council of the Blind, is set to
join the team to drive the development of literacy material, such as
Braille, for disabled people.
Hindle said the department was aware of the danger of bureaucratic blockages
that could slow down implementation. The department was exploring the use of
The department is expected to pull in NGOs that work in the field of adult
literacy, such as Project Literacy, the Molteno Project and the Adult
At its core the plan seeks to revamp and revise the content of the Abet
curriculum and deal with major shortcomings in the delivery of education to
The department has been accused by Abet practitioners of reluctance to
address problems and challenges faced by the sector.
Chief among these are appalling working conditions, including poor
facilities and resources allocated to the sector, and the low and persisent
late payment of teachers.
The campaign will address these concerns as it unfolds in three phases.
The first phase, which started this year, focuses on "organisational setup,
materials development and campaign announcements".
A team of top African language linguists has been developing the learning
materials. The plan provides for mother-tongue, first- language education
and thereafter to enable students to acquire use of the economic language in
the areas in which they live.
One of the team members described the process as similar to "translating the
Bible" into each of the 11 official languages.
The materials used in adult literacy draw on life-orientation themes, such
as health, hygiene and HIV/Aids. As part of the development of students'
vocabulary, audio-visual material on these themes will be developed and
The plan envisages the employment of at least 80 000 adult educators. The
core will be qualified unemployed Abet educators, who will be employed by
the department, but the plan is to use unemployed youth too. The department
hopes everyone who can serve will serve, be they retired magistrates or
Unisa's Abet Institute has trained about 80 000 adult literacy educators
Adult educators will be paid about R1 000 a month for teaching a class of 15
people. There will be two student enrolments a year.
Actual implementation of the plan is expected to take off by the middle of
next year with about 350 000 students.
About R850-million has been allocated to the first phase.
The second phase, to start next year until 2010, will deal with "intensive
implementation of a literacy campaign envisaged to reach 3,22-million".
The third phase will commence in 2011 until 2012 and will "mop up [adding
another 1,48-million and include a] Unesco review".
The review is an essential element of the plan, given the high drop-out rate
-- up to 50% -- of adults in literacy programmes.
Despite the challenges, Gugu Ndebele, deputy director general in the
department of education responsible for social and school enrichment, is
confident the campaign will "break the back of adult illiteracy". She said
this is because the new plan addresses a wide range of issues related to
She said these included the relevance of Abet, its responsiveness to the
country's needs, qualifications, curriculum, salary and conditions of
The ministerial report indicates that South Africa has 9,6-million people
who are functionally illiterate. Of these 4,7-million are totally
unschooled, while 4,9-million are those who dropped out of school before
Provinces that have high numbers of illiterates are Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal
and Eastern Cape and some parts of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the North West.
IsiZulu, Sepedi and isiXhosa are the most-affected home languages.
It is hoped that by 2012 4,7-million of the functionally illiterates will
have been reached. Unesco has declared that a country with less than 4% of
its adult population illiterate will be considered "illiteracy free".
Project Literacy gave the plan a thumbs-up. Chief executive Andrew Miller
said this is "the best news to date", especially as Cabinet had approved
such a huge amount of money to support the campaign.
"For the first time since the advent of democracy, this is real money set
aside for a real change that can really impact on the lives of the poor and
marginalised," Miller said.
But Archie Mokonane, chairperson of Adult Literacy Network, tempered his
optimism with caution. He said some of the plan's salient features suggest
it will succeed. These include the appointment of coordinators and monitors
at provincial, local and site levels.
He said the major undoing of the past initiatives was that things were
driven nationally with no structures or individuals involved at local
Mokonane said addressing the concerns of Abet practitioners would be
critical to getting their buy-in. More importantly, Mokonane said, the
sector should have its own pool of teachers trained specifically for the
"At the moment we rely on temporary qualified classroom teachers and when
they get full-time jobs we are left in the lurch," he said.
He called for the establishment of more dedicated public adult learning
centres throughout the country instead of using school premises.
Core elements of the plan
. To train adults who will fit into the state's key economic growth
programmes, such as expanded public works, the accelerated and shared growth
initiative for South Africa (Asgisa) and the National Skills Development
. To include the disabled sector of the community -- particularly the
visually impaired -- by making Braille-printed materials and equipment
. To develop appropriate and quality materials.
. To base it on the Cuban model by involving other government departments,
such as defence, science and technology, labour, safety and security, trade
and industry, arts and culture, correctional services and the presidency.
. To ensure that MECs of education in all the nine provinces chair literacy
committees and establish provincial, district and local literacy
. To establish financial control at national, provincial and local levels to
ensure that staff are paid on time.
. To ensure the delivery is face-to-face instruction based on the use of
methodically prepared workbooks and other print material. CDs, DVDs, radio
and television broadcasts will be used to support and train teachers.
. To outsource to a professional logistical firm with a proven record to
pack and deliver educational materials, especially to the rural areas.
. To train staff to monitor and check the effectiveness of the educational
and operational systems on the ground.
. To evaluate the campaign for accountability.
. Number of functionally illiterate South Africans: 9,6-million
. Provinces with highest numbers of illiterates: Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and
. Number of adults targeted by the campaign: 3,22-million
. Number of months to acquire basic literacy: six months
. Number of adult literacy educators needed: 80 000
. Age groups targeted: 15 to 20 and 35 to 54 years
This article will appear in the September edition of the teacher, the Mail &
Guardian's publication for educators and the education sector
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