Meet the youth that are tackling illiteracy in South Africa one book at a time
18 September, 2018
It’s 8 am on Monday morning at Ekukhanyisweni Primary School in Alexandra township, Johannesburg. Refilwe Matomela, a 24-year-old resident of Alexandra, sits down with a Grade 4 learner to start a one-on-one reading session in the container library at the school.
Refilwe is one of 13 Literacy Tutors who provide learners at the school with dedicated reading help. Affectionately called Reading Leaders by the young learners, each Literacy Tutor meets with five children who struggle to read, providing them with one-on-one reading support twice a week.
The literacy intervention comes as a huge relief at Ekukhanyisweni Primary.
Like many primary schools in township communities in South Africa, Ekukhanyisweni struggles under the pressure of overcrowded classrooms and limited resources and manpower. Children who battle to read don’t receive the individual teacher attention they desperately need, and as a result, they are left behind while the school curriculum steams ahead. The future of these primary school children is grim because if you cannot read, you cannot learn, closing all doors to a better future.
The Literacy Crisis In South Africa
These struggles are felt by children across the country. In fact, 78% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning. This sobering statistic indicates the reality and magnitude of the literacy crisis that prevails across the country. It is a crisis that spills over into future generations and touches every area of society.
What is even more devastating is that behind the shocking statistic is a generation of children who are being robbed of future opportunities because they cannot read.
While the cause of the literacy crisis is deeply complex, helping children learn to read is simple. The key lies in individual, dedicated attention, which also happens to be one of the scarcest resources in many South African schools. For many children, simply sitting with a Literacy Tutor and receiving one-on-one reading help would dramatically reduce the heartbreaking illiteracy statistic.
Thankfully, someone is doing something about it. The Youth.
The Power of Youth as Changemakers
From Khayelitsha to Diepsloot and Alexandra, young people, like Refilwe, are making a difference in their communities through reading. Refilwe and her fellow Literacy Tutors at Ekukhanyisweni are enrolled in the help2read Literacy Tutor Programme, a year-long skills development programme that trains mostly unemployed youth to provide reading help to primary school learners.
As a Literacy Tutor, Refilwe meets with five students for 30-minute reading sessions at least twice a week. The demand for reading help is high and there are always more children to assist. Day by day, reading session after reading session, Refilwe begins to see improvement in her learners’ reading. What’s more, the learners who once hated books now can’t wait for their reading session to start. As each day passes, more and more children in Refilwe’s community are falling in love with reading, which is praised to be one of the key factors in educational achievement and the doorway to future opportunities.
It’s this consistent, dedicated reading support that’s changing communities for good.
And while the Literacy Tutors have a meaningful impact on their communities through reading, they also gain valuable work experience and skills training. This has proven to be crucial in South Africa’s current economic climate where millions of youth are unemployed.
As we celebrate Literacy Month, we will be celebrating the youth of South Africa’s townships that are fighting for change, one book at a time.
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