Western Cape Celebrates International Literacy Day
United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed 8 September International Literacy Day on 17 November 1965. The aim of the day is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.
The reasons for the proclamation of the day, forty five (45) years ago still apply today.
According to UNESCO, some seven hundred and seventy six (776) million adults lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women; seventy five (75) million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.
The drive to improve literacy skills internationally applies equally in the Western Cape. The number one priority of Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of our primary school children.
The WCED has pioneered the use of large-scale, diagnostic testing in Grades 3 and 6, starting in 2002. We are using the results to inform our literacy and numeracy strategy.
In terms of our statement of strategic priorities, for 2010 to 2019, we are committed to improving literacy and numeracy outcomes by directing maximum resources (both human and financial) to the first three years of schooling.
In particular, the focus in the period 2010 to 2019 will be on improving the reading, writing and calculating abilities of learners. The period 2010-2014 will lay the foundations for these improvements.
In the period 2014-2019, the province's children will reap the fruits of a system that has been designed and managed to deliver on the targets set.
The main indicators for measuring the progress made WCED in providing quality education are:
1. Improving literacy and numeracy in Grades 1-6
2. Increasing the numbers passing in Grade 12 including an increase in numbers passing with matric exemption and mathematics and science.
Literacy performance in the Western Cape has improved steadily over the years, thanks to special interventions, but the results are still not good enough.
For example, the Grade 6 literacy pass rate has improved by thirteen point six percent (13.6%) from thirty five percent (35%) in 2003 to forty eight point six percent (48.6%) in 2009. The numeracy pass rate improved slightly from fifteen point six percent (15.6%) to only seventeen point four percent (17.4%).
Unfortunately, turning around literacy and numeracy performance is a long term process. There are no quick fixes.
Our target for Grade 6 literacy in 2012 is a pass rate of fifty five percent (55%), and twenty five percent (25%) for numeracy. The same targets for 2019 are ninety percent (90%) and eighty percent (80%) respectively. This will require sustained effort by all concerned - learners, teachers, parents and communities.
Fortunately, our schools are already taking up the challenge. Most schools have improved both their literacy and numeracy results, some of them significantly.
For example, fifty seven point six percent (57.6%) of primary schools improved their literacy results in the latest Grade 6 tests, with thirty two point six percent (32.6%) improving their results by more than ten percent (10%). Most of these schools are serving our poorest communities.
The WCED will test learners in Grades 3, 6 and 9 in the same year for the first time this year as we intensify our efforts to provide quality education. Success in matric ultimately depends on building a solid foundation in primary school.
In addition to diagnostic testing, the WCED is focusing on teacher development and building text-rich schools.
The department has invested about R120-million in school libraries in our poorest communities over the past three years. This investment forms part of a larger project to ensure access to texts in every possible way.
The WCED will invest R101-million this year in reading books and textbooks that we will place directly in classrooms and into the hands of learners.
While it is highly regrettable that the teachers' strike has come at a time when we are making progress, we are reasonably optimistic that test results will continue to show improvement this year.
We have actively encouraged parents to ensure that their children read, write and practise maths every day, including holidays.
The WCED recently concluded an extensive series of meetings with communities in every district to explain the latest literacy and numeracy results and to encourage schools, parents and communities to redouble efforts to build the literacy and numeracy skills of their children.
We thank parents, schools, communities and partners in every sector for everything they have already done to promote literacy and numeracy.
Good examples include Growsmart, an initiative of the Growthpoint Properties group in partnership with the WCED.
Growsmart is a literacy competition for learners in Grades 4, 5 and 6 which culminates today in finals at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, appropriately on International Literacy Day, 8 September 2010.
Eighty (80) schools took part this year. Growsmart plans to extend this programme to one hundred and twenty (120) schools in 2011.
The project has contributed significantly to raising public awareness, for example, at shopping malls, where the project team has organised events, mounted displays and collected books. We appreciate the fact that they have done so outside of teaching hours.
It is too early to say what effect this project will have on literacy results in the schools concerned. However, we are convinced that initiatives such as this contribute significantly to building a culture of reading in our schools and communities.
While we have a long way to go, we also have every reason to celebrate progress to date on International Literacy Day, and the commitment of all concerned to ensuring further progress in the years ahead.
Western Cape Education Department
Tel: 021 467 2377
Cell: 082 3241 284