Adults learn to read, write and count

South Africa’s Kha Ri Gude mass literacy campaign is now in its third year, reaching adults who were mostly disadvantaged as children and never learned to read and write.

With close to 1,5-million adults enrolled in literacy classes, the campaign has to rely on volunteers to recruit and teach learners. The volunteers go beyond the call of duty to helping learners to read and write. This is critical as the campaign is responding to the most vulnerable in society—those excluded from schooling, people struggling with socioeconomic problems, women, the disabled, the homeless and the aged.

The Kha Ri Gude campaign contributes to the development of communities in some of the country’s most neglected and disadvantaged communities.

Adults aged between 16 and 96, some of them blind, deaf or physically disabled, attend classes and are all are excited when they step over the illiteracy threshold into a world that has become immeasurably richer in meaning, in which they can act and transact as never before.

Globally, the past decade has seen an increase in the commitment to eradicate adult illiteracy, in line with the Education for All drive to halve illiteracy by 2015.
The Kha Ri Gude campaign is the government’s attempt to fast-track literacy achievement and meet the EFA goal of halving adult illiteracy rates. That means teaching 4,7-million adults to read and master basic arithmetic.

The campaign is on course to meet this goal with a further 600 000 learners enrolled for 2010 with those coming to class showing extreme commitment. But, for some, attending class is not always as easy.

Mrs Modise, an elderly woman on the Kha Ri Gude campaign was very angry when I met her. Her teacher went to visit her to find out why she did not attend her class. She complained that her grandchildren had borrowed the wheelbarrow that is used to transport her to class. She is a 93-year-old who relies on her family to wheel her to class.

How learners fare
The campaign has managed to ensure a high completion rate. The 80% completion rate in 2008 rose to 89% in 2009. In both years, close to 80% of “those who wrote” passed their learning assessments.

International statistics show that South Africa’s 2009 learner completion (or survival) rate of 89% is extremely high for a campaign of this nature. What is noticeable in the campaign is the commitment of learners. The campaign requires learners to commit themselves to attending classes for 10 hours a week for six months. This is to ensure that learners do not take up learning spaces and then simply drop out. It is important that learners know at the outset what is expected of them so that they can manage their time. This has contributed to the high retention rate of learners.

Learners say the campaign has been meaningful in their lives. Johan is 15-years-old and is an awaiting-trial prisoner in the Western Cape. He went to school for a while when he was younger but forgot everything he learnt as a result of his drug addiction. He says that Kha Ri Gude helped him to concentrate and to feel better about himself. Now he reads everything he can find. It has helped him realise that he can learn and he is looking forward to continuing his studies.

Jabu is blind. He learnt how to work with money and how to use his “talking calculator”, given to him as part of his Kha Ri Gude learning material. Recently his older brother tried to stop him from attending classes because the family did not want him to start managing his own disability grant.

About the campaign
The campaign was launched in April 2008, with the intention of enabling 4,7-million South Africans to become literate and numerate in one of the 11 official languages by 2015. In its first year, 357 195 learners were enrolled, with 613 643 in 2009 and a further 610 000 in 2010. The campaign enables learners to read, write and calculate in their mother tongue in line with the unit standards for Abet level one/grade three, and also to learn spoken English.

It relies on community participation. Members of the community help with the recruitment of teachers and learners and the selection of venues for classes.

Because it uses the services of volunteers, the campaign achieves a substantial social welfare outcome in the form of job opportunities. Over the past two years, the campaign has paid R550-million to more than 70 000 volunteers, and a further 40 000 volunteers are earning a stipend.

Emphasis is placed on making the lessons accessible, so classes are held at times convenient to the learners, and take place in homes, churches, mosques, schools, prisons and community centres.

Learners do not pay for the classes, which makes it possible for the poorest members of the community to attend. What learners are required to do is to commit themselves to attending classes for the duration of the academic year.

Literacy tuition is given in the mother tongue of the learners and classes are offered in all 11 official languages as well as in Braille and sign language.

The campaign is inclusive of all marginalised groups and targets the homeless, rural communities, the aged, out-of-school youth, the disabled, the incarcerated, women, street children, victims of human trafficking and migrants.

All learners enrolled in the campaign are registered on a central database and their achievements are recorded to enable accreditation and validation of learning.

The databases of learners and volunteers are verified by the department of home affairs to ensure the authenticity of participants.

Relational databases and a unique numbering system link learners with their educators, educators to their supervisors and supervisors to their coordinators, making stringent monitoring possible.

All learners are assessed prior to being registered on the campaign (they should be either totally illiterate or have a sufficiently low level of literacy to gain access to classes).

The campaign utilises economies of scale and enables an adult to become literate and numerate at R680 per capita, thereby expanding literacy provision.

A more intangible, more heartwarming tribute to the campaign’s success is the joy of learners at ceremonies across the country as they receive certificates that they do not have to ask someone else to read.

Professor Veronica McKay is the chief executive of the Kha Ri Gude South African Mass Literacy Campaign in the department of basic education

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