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Eight out of every ten children in South Africa are functionally illiterate, meaning that they cannot read or write at a basic level. The month of September marks and commemorates International Literacy Month and arrives at a time in which literacy teaching and learning have undergone fundamental shifts due to the challenges brought about by Covid-19.
“Literacy is critical, particularly for early childhood development as this influences a child's development and ability to progress throughout the education system,” says Lungisa Fuzile, Chief Executive of Standard Bank South Africa.
“As a bank, in addition to investing money, we also want to grow human capital and connect in meaningful ways with fellow South Africans. That is why we have partnered with local initiatives to ensure activities are available to learners throughout the month of literacy month and beyond.”
As a result of physical restrictions implemented to comply with Covid-19 guidelines, education systems and literacy programs came to a grinding halt, which significantly disrupted the lives of learners across all ages and slowed their development.
New strategies had to be implemented to ensure the continuity of learning, including technology-enabled learning, often in combination with in-person, which teachers and learners were forced to adapt to in a short space of time.
However, access to online literacy opportunities in countries like South Africa, where a great digital divide exists in terms of connectivity, was not evenly distributed with some children in more affluent areas able to continue their learning while others fell behind, some at critical phases of their development.
Standard Bank has partnered with Shine Literacy, which offers literacy support programs in 77 primary schools across the country, to help power a data-free Mobi site called Story Time, where children can listen to stories and play activities that develop literacy skills.
By using the data-free website and Mobi-site, Shine can bring stories into the child’s home. Children listen to stories, sing songs, and play word games thus developing their language and literacy skills. Ideal for those who do not have access to physical resources. So far, its mobile-site stories are available in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, French, and English.
Having launched this in May, Shine is currently reaching over 7 000 users, and this reach is growing each week.
The initiative is implemented in 19 public primary schools in Grahamstown and continues to work with select schools to participate in up-scaled interventions. All select schools are no-fee paying schools with strong management structures and functional practices and have committed to supporting the initiatives.
This year’s activities for the primary schools comprise the following:
Makhanda schools have bounced back from the disappointing results of 2019 and recorded a collective pass rate of 80% for the first time in the city’s history in 2020. Nearly half of Makhanda’s matriculants produced Bachelor passes and this is attributed to the intervention.
With the 8th of September has been “International Literacy Day”, Standard Bank and Nal’ibali – South Africa’s reading-for-enjoyment campaign – have joined hands in celebration of the day by bringing three time-honored stories to South African children by retelling them with the help of popular local performers in South African languages and with modern, relatable local contexts.
Little Red Riding Hood, The Ugly Duckling, and The Frog Prince will be retold by headline performers Sihle Nontshokweni (an award-winning international writer, storyteller, Ph.D. candidate and host for The Ultimate Book Show); Buhle Ngaba (a multi-award winning South African actor, writer, and theatre activist) and Sanelisiwe Ntuli (a veteran storyteller and long-standing narrator on South Africa’s biggest radio station, Ukhozi FM) in isiZulu, Setswana, and English.
This special project is an extension of Nal’ibali’s collaboration with Standard Bank. The collaboration launched in 2020 and began as an emergency Covid-19 literacy and education intervention. A custom-designed initiative ensured that caregivers supporting their children’s education and literacy journeys at home received support through interactive WhatsApp groups with trained experts.
The three public storytelling sessions are broadcasted on the Nal’ibali Facebook page (@NalibaliSA) on the following dates:
The first one went live on 08 September with Sanelisiwe Ntuli retelling The Frog Prince in isiZulu; the second one on 17 September with Sihle Nontshokweni retelling the Little Red Riding Hoodin English; Lastly, on 22 September Buhle Ngaba retelling The Ugly Duckling, Setswana). All reading sessions can be accessed here (https://www.facebook.com/nalibaliSA).
“Reading and sharing stories with children is one of the most powerful gifts we can give them, more so in languages they can fully understand. Children who are regularly read to by their parents and teachers and who read for pleasure perform better in the classroom, regardless of their family’s social or financial standing,” concludes Fuzile.