© Twin2Win 2018

In hac habitasse platea dictumst

The basic building block of education

Literacy is the basic building block of education.

If you never learn to read, you will never be able to read to learn.

In their vital journey towards literacy, rural Zulu children face one or more of these several negative factors:

It is not surprising therefore that more than half (58%) of Grade 4 South African children cannot read for meaning in their home language (all 11 languages were tested), and that is when they are faced with the compulsory switch to English language instruction.  As a result, South Africa placed 150th and last in the 2016 PIRL study of literacy amongst Grade 4 children, and amongst poorer households and in rural areas the results were even worse.

An added problem for the rural Zulu child is that (s)he grows up in a completely mono-linguistic culture. All Sowetan children will hear many different languages in the street and on television – Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, English and even Afrikaans – and conversations amongst adults in the metropolitan areas of Gauteng will incorporate several of these.  However, the rural Zulu child grows up speaking and hearing only Zulu, so the sudden switch to English can be devastating.

At this stage, in their fourth year of school, many rural Zulu children cannot cope and simply give up.  This is a tragedy because – in the stark words of educational expert Dr Nic Spaull – they are then “on a one-way ticket to failure” and will eventually “enter the labour market ill-prepared and inherit lives of chronic poverty and sustained unemployment.”

What a desperate prospect!

We at Twin2Win cannot sit by and watch this disaster unfold, and that is why we have partnered with maverick educationist Felicity Keats to roll out what will be called “Dancing Pencils Library Corners”.

This is a drive to provide as many Grade 1, 2 & 3 classrooms as possible with a designated corner where children can sit and look at books – some will be in English, some in Zulu and some in both languages, but they will all deal with stories that are relevant to the lives of rural Zulu children, and many of them will have been written by slightly older rural Zulu schoolchildren who have been lucky enough to have attended one of Mrs Keats’s “Dancing Pencils” writing workshops.

These reading corners are planned to incorporate 150 relevant books, a plastic table and four little plastic chairs: initial costings show that this can be achieved for a total outlay, including delivery and installation, of less than £1000 per school.

The initial drive will be undertaken in rural Zululand – essentially all of rural KZN north of the Thukela River – and subsequent efforts will incorporate the rest of rural KZN.  It should be emphasized that this is a rural poverty alleviation project, and consequently it will not incorporate metropolitan areas such as Durban and Pietermaritzburg.