Who Is Who In Literacy – Meet Shine Literacy
14 June, 2017
High illiteracy levels among learners are all too common in primary schools across South Africa. Thankfully, there are organisations working to ensure that illiteracy no longer defines South Africa’s story.
In this month’s Who Is Who In Literacy feature article, we chat with Maurita Weissenberg, the Founder of Shine Literacy. Shine is a non-profit dedicated to improving literacy outcomes for young children from disadvantaged communities in South Africa, and works with children in Grades Two and Three.
Shine Literacy offers literacy support to 66 schools in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. What motivated you to start Shine?
I spent the first 25 years of my career as a primary school teacher working in both private and state schools in South Africa and the UK. I found that ‘struggling to learn to read’ was an issue that affected many children irrespective of their background or schooling. This motivated me to qualify as a remedial teacher in 1994.
In 1998, I volunteered in this capacity at Observatory Junior School in Cape Town where I worked with twelve Grade Five children who had huge potential, but who struggled due to poor literacy skills. I identified that an early intervention literacy support programme could help overcome this and so researched best practice across relevant projects. As a result, the Shine Centre was established at the school in 2000. By 2006, the literacy profile of this school had risen from 50% to 84% for Grade Three children and from 48% to 78% for Grade Six children.
As I’m sure you are well aware, South Africa’s education is in crisis. What are some of the hurdles that you encounter working in under-resourced areas, specifically with regards to literacy?
Class sizes are large (often in excess of 40 children) and many teachers are overwhelmed, without adequate support and resources. In many of our schools children are learning in English, which is not their mother-tongue.
Many children also face multiple deprivations from birth, which directly impact on their ability to learn. These include poor nutrition, disease, violence and abuse, impoverished living conditions and a lack of loving relationships.
Parents and caregivers tend to undervalue their role in their child’s education and remain South Africa’s most under-utilised educational resource. Crucially, parents lack opportunities to gain the confidence, knowledge and skills to enable them to support learning in the home and help their child reach their fullest potential.
How does Shine Literacy address these hurdles?
Our flagship intervention is the Shine Literacy Hour, which is endorsed by the Western Cape Education Department, welcomed by school leaders and is designed to support the national curriculum. Volunteers (known as Learning Partners) support the same children each week. Because they work with no more than two children at a time, they provide a quality of attention and interaction that is not usually possible in a classroom environment. It is this relationship, coupled with our tried and tested programme, which makes possible children’s rapid progress. Each child’s progress is closely monitored and assessed.
All volunteers receive comprehensive initial training in the Shine Literacy approach, methods and materials, as well as follow-up training each year to help them deepen their skills and practice. We currently have 900 volunteers working in schools each week.
Our programmes run out of centres within each school. We have scaled this programme using a social franchise model. We currently have 19 organisations, corporate foundations or individuals running these franchises.
Elements of the Shine Literacy Hour form part of a few other collaborative programmes called Year Beyond, Khanyisa and Masikhulisani, which utilises youth as Learning Partners. These programmes could not be possible without strong partnerships with other literacy and youth organisations.
“Words can change worlds” – Literacy support can be truly life-changing for a child. Can you tell us about the impact you’ve seen on a child life after receiving literacy support?
Sihle was a young boy who despite his enormous willingness to learn could not seem to retain information he read and his volunteer despaired of him. Just as she thought he had mastered a new word he seemed to forget it the following week. What impressed us all was that he wasn’t prepared to give up and had this quiet determination to succeed. But at the time it was heartbreaking because it didn’t feel like he was making any progress at all.
After a full two years and 128 Shine Literacy Hours later, he came to the Shine Centre and reported to his learning partner, “Margi, today I could read what the teacher wrote on the board.” He had finally cracked the code. A few years later he popped into the Shine Centre proudly showing us his favourite book, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Sihle still keeps in touch with us and is studying engineering. We are incredibly proud of him.
Can you tell us more about your Family Literacy Workshops and why reading at home is so important?
Shine’s Family Literacy Workshops seek to equip parents and caregivers with the knowledge and skills to create a culture of reading in the home. The workshops build on parents’ and caregivers’ existing understanding, helping them to value what they know and to embrace their vital role in their child’s education. Tips, practical ideas and new resources enable them to develop a repertoire of strategies and tools for helping their children to become successful readers and writers. In 2016, we ran 34 Family Literacy Workshops, attended by 1 599 parents and caregivers. This year we will also partner with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) in their 100 School’s Project in this regard and each family will leave the workshop with a handbook and two storybooks.
How can other organisations, whether schools or literacy NGOs, support and be supported by Shine Literacy’s efforts?
One way Shine can partner with other organisations is through our social franchise model. Shine Chapters are social franchises that deliver the Shine Literacy Hour model but are run and funded independently. The Chapter Manager is responsible for recruiting volunteers and ensuring that the programme is delivered according to the Shine model. Shine Literacy provides initial training and resources such as a Chapter Manual, Quality Assurance and Communications Toolkits, and ongoing support and monitoring. The Chapters are an innovative solution for scaling our essential model, helping us to spread knowledge more widely and to reach far more children than we could on our own.
To find out more about Shine Literacy and their work, visit their website http://www.shineliteracy.org.za/
Registered Non-Profit 063-979 PBO 930027054 UK Charity Reg No. 1109567