Let’s give South Africa the power of reading!
South Africa’s literacy statistics reflect an indisputable crisis in education. Children cannot read at a proficiency level that affords them a basic comprehension of text and access to primary education after age 10, let alone secondary and tertiary academia. There is no curriculum to offer if the children cannot read the material. There is no Fourth Industrial Revolution to enter if the requirement is literacy, visual or linguistic. There is no global economy to play in, if written language isn’t engaged. There can be no scientists, entrepreneurs, economic shape shifters, software coders or other 21st Century careers if the fundamental ability to read is lacking.
South Africans are hard at work to resolve the crisis, piloting literacy schemes, holding academic ‘war rooms’ testing hypotheses for best pedagogy, best school curricula, best materials, trained and committed teachers. That is the good news.
The bad news is that if one or more of these avenues materializes on scale, it will be 15-25years, or more, before South African society becomes influenced by literate young people entering the workplace.The research is clear. Children need repeated exposure to high quality, well-structured literacy instruction in order to learn to read. At the core of the education crisis in South Africa is poor literacy instruction and the challenge of introducing young readers to reading in their home language first, before reading in another language for teaching and learning. The language debate in South Africa is understandably complex. Sadly, many languages are marginalized despite concerted policy efforts to ensure that African languages permeate our national curriculum. There are insufficient resources available, that being teachers, schools or materials, to afford every child the opportunity to master reading in their home language, or any other.
Drastic times call for urgent measures. In 2017, Bellavista S.H.A.R.E., a division of Bellavista School, put its hand up to make a difference sooner than that. It is time to introduce technology, not just textbooks on tablets, to learners in the educational system, and get South Africans literate,
in more than one language – now. Being a school that intervenes for reading difficulty, the insight into effective reading intervention exists within its members and associated colleagues internationally. Bellavista set out in pursuit of a scalable, evidence based technology solution that it could develop and share with South Africans rapidly. The desired innovation needed to be accessible across socio-economic barriers, trustworthy and inclusive of all the languages in the country. All eleven languages were to be regarded as equally deserving of development,
not only to preserve their heritage, but to ensure that no one gets left behind. These objectives were realized in Feed the Monster.
Feed the Monster is a joint venture of Apps Factory,
GET – The Center for Educational Technology, and IRC – The International Rescue Committee. This award winning app was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the software declared open source following its pilot efficacy in Syrian refugee camps.
Bellavista found support from the MTN Foundation, and a tech partner in Curious Learning, Boston USA, and localised Feed the Monster to SA English, IsiXhosa, Tshivenda, IsiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Xitsonga, SiSwati, Afrikaans, IsiNdebele and Setswana. Swahili is already developed too, to support the many Swahili speakers in the region. By deploying accessible cellular technology, a solid, research based and award winning literacy application, Feed the Monster, presented in an instructional and gamification format, can be delivered directly to the learners and get them literate. Readers aged between ages six and eight can access reading instruction via a designed curriculum that can take them to an early Grade Two level on a CAPS measurement, matching letters with sounds, and learning that sounds together make words, then words together make sentences that carry meaning. The app addresses the foundation of all reading. Feed the Monster bridges the gap between literacy skills and fluent reading.
In essence, technology helps make learning the fundamentals of reading more meaningful and fun, this reaching a wider community. Technology is not a pedagogy or even a teacher, it is an enhancer to get South African children literate – now.
This project will ‘scale up’ literacy impact by localizing and distributing this app so that many children can begin their journey of learning to read.