The Funda Wande Project & the importance of Mother Tongue literacy
12 December, 2017
With illiteracy among primary school learners distressingly high in South Africa, levelling the many challenges that are at the root of the high illiteracy rates is paramount. One such challenge that is crippling literacy across the country is the inadequate training of teachers in how to teach reading for meaning.
We’ve seen this deficit of knowledge first-hand and is why we’ve partnered with Cape Peninsula University of Technology to provide this practical training to its Foundation Phase teaching students. More needs to be done, however, to equip teachers across the country, which is why we were thrilled to hear about the launch of the Funda Wande project.
We spoke with Funda Wande Project Director and leading South African expert on literacy education, Nic Spaull, about the exciting new project.
You recently announced the launch of an exciting project you’ve been working on. Can you tell us more about Funda Wande?
Funda Wande is a course we are developing to teach Foundation Phase teachers (Grades R-3) how to teach reading in African languages. The first language we are developing the course for is isiXhosa.
Funda Wande focusses on developing literacy in one’s Mother Tongue first. What is the importance of mastering literacy in one’s Mother Tongue before making the transition to English or Afrikaans from Grade 4 onwards?
When children come to school they usually bring with them a much richer understanding of their mother tongue than of any other language. They have a larger vocabulary in their mother tongue and understand the ‘rules’ of the language – even if it is only that they know that some things sound ‘right’ and others ‘wrong’ without knowing why. It is for these reasons that children find it much easier to learn to read in their mother tongue than in a language that they don’t know very well at all (English).
The research in linguistics is quite clear that children who master reading in their home-language first find it much easier to learn to read in a second language and become more proficient in that second language as a result. Given that schooling in South Africa is mainly in English from Grade 4 (about 90% of students are learning in English in Grade 4), they need to become biliterate (reading, writing and speaking in at least two languages) and not only bilingual (only speaking two languages).
In your experience, what are the key issues surrounding South Africa’s teachers and teaching reading for meaning? Is there a specific root to the problem, or rather a culmination of many factors?
South African teachers have never been given meaningful learning opportunities to acquire this specialized knowledge, neither in their initial teacher training nor in subsequent in-service training. They often do not know what the various components of reading are (phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency and motivation) or how these fit together into a cohesive whole. Many teachers are also confused about how to implement different reading methodologies like group-guided reading or shared reading – particularly in large-class settings. Currently, teachers focus on communalized activities like chorusing and offer very little differentiation or individualized instruction or assessment. There is also little formal teaching of vocabulary, spelling, writing or phonics and almost no understanding of how to develop the most important skill in reading: comprehension.
How will Funda Wande help teachers learn how to teach reading for meaning?
The course is structured around 11 modules which contain approximately 80 lessons in total. Each lesson contains a video or animation explaining the concept and – where relevant – showing what it looks like when implemented well and badly in a classroom. We think high-quality video is a potentially very useful tool in explaining concepts and practices to teachers.
Where does one-on-one reading support fit in, if at all, in the Funda Wande model?
Well, there is 1-on-1 coaching between the reading coach and the teacher and that happens once every two weeks. If you mean one-on-one with respect to the teacher and one student, then that would probably come under the remediation and assessment module. Some assessments have to be done one-on-one (like oral reading fluency) and some remediation strategies are implemented only in small groups and sometimes one-on-one.
When will the certification be available and how can teachers access it?
We are still working on this; It would only be available from 2019 earliest, by probably 2020 and would be a formal qualification most probably hosted at an existing university
Funda Wande directly speaks to gaps in teacher training curriculum. Are there plans to work with teacher training institutions in the future? Alternatively, how can teacher training institutions ensure that their Foundation Phase teachers are adequately equipped?
Yes, we are already in discussions with some of the Foundation Phase lecturers at various South African universities. Importantly, all the Funda Wande videos, resources and materials will be openly licensed so anyone can use them without charge. While we hope that universities will use the full package of resources and offer it is a sub-course that would be part of the Foundation Phase B.Ed, they could also pick and choose which parts they want to include in their existing course offering.
How can other literacy organisations get involved in the Funda Wande initiative?
At the moment we are still creating the materials but want to do so in as collaborative a way as possible. I would encourage anyone interested in the project to reach out to us at email@example.com.
Dr Nic Spaull is the Project Director of the Funda Wande programme funded by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment, the VW Community Trust and the Millennium Foundation. He is also Senior Researcher in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University.
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