Reading must be taught
Reading for meaning requires leadership in teachers and parents says Zameka Lubelwana who is passionate about the development of children’s reading and writing abilities at primary school level. As the Eastern Cape Director and Literacy coach for Funda Wande, a South African non-profit organisation that aims to ensure that all learners can read for meaning in their home language by the age of 10 she is in a prime position to shift the current dynamic.
According to the organisation, South Africa is virtually unique among upper middle-income countries in that 78% of our children do not learn to read for meaning in the first three years of school. Without this core skill, they fall further behind as they have to be promoted into higher grades.
Funda Wande launched a two-year Reading for Meaning programme in February this year within 30 selected primary schools. Lubelwana is responsible for three districts in the province, the Sarah Baartman, Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay. She has six school coaches under her guidance.
She exclaims that she was shocked to realise that most children in the province cannot read isiXhosa. “We coach the teachers on the best methods to teach languages. Most of them were not aware that reading has to be taught, as it does not come naturally for all children, especially since our schools have up to 50 children per class, and teachers often flow with the ones that are fluent, leaving others behind.”
The teachers have been having a lot of ‘aha’ moments when introduced to different teaching methodologies and materials. The project introduces them to working with smaller groups in order to identify children’s needs and shortfalls. They also use videos to assist. “Parents have to get involved in ensuring that children read at home. The department of education supplies story books that can be taken home. Reading can be a personal experience so we encourage home reading. Children are often fascinated with the stories afterwards compared to reading in front of the whole class,” said Lubelwana.
She noted that the teachers in the Buffalo City Metro were impressive in their efforts to ensure that children performed to the best of their abilities. There are also programmes that support teacher engagement and training. “I found these teachers to be dedicated and committed. They know and understand their children and have a very positive attitude. They are also well supported by subject advisors,” she added. She warned, however, that a change of mindsets is needed in the province as some school environments are very toxic, with teacher relations and politics taking over the education of children.
“In education, change is the profit. Teachers need to engage in team buildings workshops because a strong team is a winning team. Schools need libraries to keep the children busy and they need discipline from the right leadership.”
Most schools in the province have libraries, although under capacitated. Lubelwana also called for the publishing of more isiXhosa books to stock these libraries. The programme works with curriculum/subject advisors by sending them for courses on reading, teaching reading for meaning at Rhodes University, a partner in the project. “We need to leave the school able to continue without our assistance so that it can become a place of learning where the needs and wants of children are understood and taken care of,” she concluded.