With calls growing louder for government, corporates and all citizens to step up to help solve a growing literacy crisis, the MTN SA Foundation has partnered with Bellavista S.H.A.R.E., a division of Bellavista School, and US-based non-profit Curious Learning, to pilot an award-winning child literacy app that significantly enhances reading fluency and comprehension.
“Urgent action is needed, as a lack of access to reading material and textbooks are two of the main reasons that 78% of South African children in grade three still can’t read for meaning. This is not helped by the fact that only 29% of the poorest primary schools in the country reportedly have access to in-school libraries,” says Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi, general manager: MTN SA Foundation.
The pilot of the ground-breaking app, called Feed the Monster, helps make learning the fundamentals of reading more meaningful and fun, while reaching out to a wide community. In recognition of the importance of using the mother tongue to foster literacy at foundation level, MTN has played a key role in facilitating the localisation of the solution into all 11 official languages in South Africa.
The app addresses all aspects of reading and bridges the gap between literacy skills and fluent reading. Because the ability to comprehend and understand the meaning of words is crucial to successful knowledge and skills transfer, the launch of the app ties in with MTN’s ongoing commitment to help improve literacy, education and skills so that the immense opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution can be accessed by more children across the country.
Through the engaging and exciting Feed the Monster app, readers between the ages of six and eight will be able to access reading instruction via a specialised curriculum. By matching letters with sounds, the app gives children the ability to learn that sounds combined together make words, and words together make sentences that carry meaning.
“We are pleased to be able to bring the transformative power of technology to South Africa’s children. Not only does this bridge the digital divide and prepare our children for a future in the information age, but we are also providing the basic building blocks for early childhood education,” says Mtunzi-Hairwadzi.
“Additionally, tools like this go a long way to addressing technological illiteracy and help to develop the necessary skills needed in today’s digital world,” she says.
Alison Scott, principal of Bellavista School, says case studies and reports from other parts of the world highlight the immense strides that can be made by harnessing mobile and app-based solutions.
“In Syria, where an estimated 2.3-million children are out of school because of violent conflict, the Feed the Monster app resulted in positive learning outcomes in all age groups. The rate of change for younger children was an impressive 34% on the syllable sub-task versus a 27% change rate for older children. The improvement in oral reading fluency was even more remarkable, with a 75% increase from baseline for younger children, while older children achieved an 18% increase.”
The power of mobile software for learning is a potential game-changer for developing countries. According to Scott, an experiment in India found that a personalised technology tutoring system led to better learning than formal education, in less time, for less cost.
“It has been very encouraging to see the positive impact of the app in marginalised communities in other parts of the world. It is the shared view of Bella Vista, Curious Learning and MTN that Feed the Monster can give every child in South Africa the opportunity to learn to read — no matter their circumstances,” says Scott.
Feed the Monster will scale up its literacy impact in South Africa by localising and distributing two learning apps. The first focuses on fundamental reading skills; the second on providing a collection of interactive e-books that act as “training wheels” for young readers. Together, these apps provide a springboard for many children to begin their journey of learning to read.
Earlier this year the MTN SA Foundation together with Samsung Electronics and the department of social development handed over a multimedia centre to Thlokomelo Special School in Soweto. Feed the Monster will complement the specialised equipment that was donated. In particular, the app will support students with learning difficulties, such as specific learning disability, and will provide them with much-needed access to e-learning.
“We hope to be able to assist thousands of vulnerable students across South Africa with the launch of this exciting new initiative. The answers to solving South Africa’s literacy crisis are certainly within reach, especially if technology is harnessed to improve access to reading resources and other learning tools. Together we can brighten the lives of all children,” concludes Mtunzi-Hairwadzi.
About MTN Group
Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a multinational telecommunications group, operating in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in South Africa under the share code: “MTN.” As of March 31 2019, MTN recorded 236.6-million subscribers across its operations. Visit www.mtn.com or www.mtn.co.za