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"An ABC plan to reach XYZ" (literacy in South Africa)

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  • Don Osborn
    The following item from the South African paper, Mail & Guardian, was seen via a Google alert. Don An ABC plan to reach XYZ Mail & Guardian Online
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 17, 2007
      The following item from the South African paper, Mail & Guardian, was seen
      via a Google alert. Don

      "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
      resources matters.

      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
      implementation agents.

      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
      Learning Network.

      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
      grade seven.

      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
      coordination units.

      . 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.

      Fast facts

      . Number of functionally illiterate South Africans: 9,6-million

      . Provinces with highest numbers of illiterates: Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and
      Eastern Cape

      . 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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