Stellenbosch University’s (SU)“I CAN read” literacy project is growing in leaps and bounds, now helping 77 pre-service teachers offer language support to 360 pupils in the area.
The literacy project, which is the brainchild of SU’s Dr Zelda Barends, is aimed at improving the literacy levels of foundation-phase pupils and to also alert prospective teachers on how context can and should influence their approach to teaching.
Since its inception four years ago, the project has evolved into a significant social impact initiative, shaping many young learners and student teachers.
“People need to be able to read to be fully functional in society. By improving learners’ reading skills, they can gain access to better education, which has a sustainable impact on society,” said Barends.
Barends designed the after-school language development programme focusing on foundation phase pupils (Grades 1 to 3) as a way to help address the country’s huge primary-school literacy crisis.
Supplementing the existing curriculum, “I CAN read” comprises 77 pre-service teachers who offer language support to about 360 pupils from three schools in the greater Stellenbosch area. The lessons consist of phonics and word-building to eventually elevate pupils’ reading comprehension.
At the same time, the programme offers student teachers a platform to become culturally responsive teachers. Students are expected to adapt their teaching methods according to the diverse contexts and needs in the classroom.
“Through the project, students receive extensive exposure to different contexts, and get to experience how different learners learn and what influences their learning ability,” says Barends.
Matie students training to become Afrikaans Home Language foundation phase teachers, teach the little ones twice a week for 11 weeks in the first semester of their fourth-year BEd studies. And the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.
Emma Smit, who is enrolled for her MEd degree, said the project changed her entire approach to teaching.
“I became aware of the importance of forming social-emotional connections with my learners,” she said. “Getting to know learners, their families and home situations now forms part of my daily teaching practice. And I believe that teachers can only be successful if there’s a sense of community that extends beyond the four walls of the classroom.”
Jacolette du Plessis, another alumnus who took part in “I CAN read” in her final year of study, says it was challenging, but worth it.
“We learned many valuable teaching techniques and realised that each learner is unique, with his or her own story. Many learners face daily challenges, from unreliable bus transport to food shortages, no parents at home, bullying, alcohol, drugs, abuse, violence, and the list goes on,” said Du Plessis.”