Lending a hand

Instead of choosing knitting as her pastime, pensioner Jane O’Hara prefers to give reading lessons to pupils at Troyeville Primary School on a voluntary basis. On any given Tuesday and Wednesday you will find her sitting with a pupil for half an hour, giving them the individual attention they need to improve their ability to read English.

Troyeville is a state school where most grades have a ratio of 40 learners to one teacher.
The individual attention provided by the reading lessons alleviates the pressure on the teacher and gives the pupil the chance to catch up with the rest of the class.

“Many of the children’s parents cannot read or don’t have the time to sit with their children,” says Jane O’Hara. Some of the pupils have been taught in a different language at their previous school and find it hard to cope. “There is one boy who I am coaching who comes from Congo and he only speaks French, but he has progressed since being on the programme.”

In each grade, the teachers select the pupils who are having problems with reading English. “It is usually the weaker students that we send to O’Hara,” says Rosemary Shulze, principal of the school.

Another pensioner, Eva Sacks, also volunteers her time but unfortunately she has been ill recently. “Sacks is wonderful, a real granny type, with her walking stick. The children love both these women,” says Shulze.

O’Hara first came to the Troyeville Primary three years ago and offered to assist the school. “I needed to do something constructive with my time,” she says. “It gives me pleasure to see a child improving and I find it interesting to hear their stories.”

The reading lesson follows no specific curriculum but is left to O’Hara’s discretion. If a child lacks confidence or has a problem with pronunciation, O’Hara will read with the child. “It depends on the child. Some of them read on their own while others need help because English is their second or third language.” Every year, each pupil’s progress is assessed by O’ Hara. Some return to her the following year but most improve sufficiently to continue without her assistance.

After O’Hara volunteered her services, the principal put an advertisement in a local newspaper asking for any other pensioners who would like to assist the school in this manner.

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, July 2001.

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