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There is a new push to improve literacy levels in primary school that involves better teaching methods and the provision of resources. Families are also called on to become involved.
FOUNDATION phase teaching is the focus of the new Gauteng Primary Literacy Strategy (GPLS), which was launched by the MEC for education, Barbara Creecy, on Saturday, 22 January in Midrand.


MEC Barbara Creecy addresses foundation phase educatorsMEC Barbara Creecy addresses foundation phase educatorsThe programme will incorporate teacher and learner support, the provision of literacy resources and an annual national assessment. The Department of Education described the new scheme as “the key that opens the doors of learning and culture”.

Creecy spoke to about 6 500 foundation phase educators, from grades one to three, from 790 under-performing primary schools about the importance of teaching children the basics of literacy from an early age. These educators have been undergoing “just in time” training since January 2010 to improve their teaching of reading and writing.

“We love this country, and it will be more beautiful if we can educate an African child in our lifetime,” said the head of the education department and the programme director, Boy Ngobeni. “To maintain the level of a 78,6 percent pass rate, we need to build a firm foundation.”

This was where the foundation phase educators came in; Ngobeni reminded them of this when he said: “You are very important. It starts with you.”

Creecy echoed Ngobeni’s sentiments, and said that while they were pleased with the 7 percent increase in matric results, they remained humbled by the large number of young people who left school unable to read or write properly. “We are hoping to mobilise you to get the foundation phase right, and mobilise you to support the initiative,” Creecy said to the assembled educators.

At present, 63 percent of learners leaving Grade 6 were unable to read or write adequately. “If it continues, we won’t be able to build on improving matric results.”

She quoted President Jacob Zuma’s policy for all grade three, six and nine learners to write annual literacy and numeracy tests that are independently moderated, and to increase the pass rates of these tests from the current average of between 35 and 40 percent to at least 60 percent by 2014. This year’s national assessment will happen in February.


Children Reading and writing is vital in the cognitive development of a childCreecy also spoke about the four pillars that kept up the roof of the GPLS. The first was measuring literacy and raising expectations by conducting annual national assessments from grades one to six.

The second pillar involved strengthening the teaching of literacy with the provision of literacy resources such as graded readers, phonics programmes and workbooks. Creecy called this the “triple cocktail”. Literacy mentors or coaches would help teachers understand the complexities of the system and help them get optimum results.

The third pillar dealt with improving programmes of learner support. Homework and family support and school libraries were essential elements in these programmes.

“The family needs to ask, ‘How was school and what did you learn today?’, as well as read with the student for just five minutes every day,” Creecy said. “This will create an atmosphere in the home where students are encouraged to learn, and the child will learn to read in just six months if his/her family reads with them.”

She stressed the importance of encouraging learners to read aloud, as it would make them more confident in their abilities.

Improving the management of literacy teaching and learning was the fourth pillar. “The first purpose of primary school is to teach reading, writing and arithmetic,” she said. “All other activities should support this core focus.”

An effective way of persuading children to read was by making books their friends, as she did with her own children. “If you make books your friends, you will never be lonely.”

The only way the department would be able to improve literacy, though, was with the educators’ help, so she made an appeal to them: “We need you to support and help us; you are the centre … If we can do this, there is a generation of children waiting to take their rightful place in society.”

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