By Nkanyezi Phephisile Mathizerd
This year ACTIVATE! launched what they refer to as The Big 5 Sectors. No! Not the lion or the rhino; keep reading, soon we’ll be on the same page. In the world of Activators, the phrase The Big 5 Sectors has a rather exciting and unique meaning; it refers to the 5 key sectors or focus areas that Activators have been seen to be the most active or rather driving the most change in. The sectors are as follows: A! Health, A! Literacy, A! Youth Economic Participation (YEP), A! Interconnectedness and Inclusivity, and lastly Active Citizenship.
This article zooms into the A! Literacy sector in reference to the #Geleza4Life webinar held this past Friday on the 6th July from 14:00 to 16:00 lead by Mzwandile who is the sector coordinator. An impressive number of 76 Activators, old and new, were in attendance but most importantly, actively participated. The objective was to gather insights into the thoughts of Activators on the research presented on the ACTIVATE! Literacy Sector inforgraphic interrogating realities of literacy in South Africa in reference to the world.
ACTIVATE! had already motivated the “why” behind the select focus on the chosen sectors; it would be rather interesting to find out or confirm if Activators agreed with the network or perhaps differed as far as the research was concerned; the need and relevance thereof.
Four Activators stood out for me as engagements started to gather momentum during the webinar. These are young people that not only participated but each one showed a deeper understanding, genuine interest and interrogation on the matter at hand and moreover, they also demonstrated an understanding of the importance and impact of literacy for our country.
2018 Activator Lillian Madubedube, aged 22 from Katlehong hit the ground running, as one may tell she is a recent recruit to the network but this did not seem to hold her back or slow her down. Lwando Fanana from Eastern Cape and Tshepo Moatshe from Gauteng, 29 and 24 respectively both 2017 Activators added perspective to the conversation; it became impossible to ignore, not least at all, Zamokuhle Gama 19 years of age another 2018 Activator based in Gauteng but originally from KZN shares her story of how she battled and conquered illiteracy as a young child.
Does literacy deserve to be one of ACTIVATE!’s focus areas according to Activators?
Before we answer this, here are some dictionary definitions for the words literacy and education. Education is the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university and literacy is the ability to read and write or competence or knowledge in a specified area. It becomes clear that these two are connected and have dependency, hence the common theme that most of the webinar participants showed i.e. to acquire an education one has to be literate. As a result Activators showed strong support and belief that literacy should be one of The Big 5 focus areas.
Did the literacy champs learn anything new?
Additional to the launch, ACTIVATE! needed unpack in order to understand why it is that Activators seemed to gravitate to these focus areas. This is why intensive research was conducted in support of this strategy and inforgraphics were produced for each sector. Literacy champions will hate to admit it (or rather did admit) but the webinar presented a lot of fresh and new information. A lot of learning took place- especially around the stats.
Lillian, for example, experienced shock at the local versus international gap looking at literacy, “the international medium score for Grade 4 who can read with meaning is 80% compared to 34% in South Africa”. One of Tshepo’s points spoke to how necessary it is for parents to read to their children as this lays a needed foundation for teachers to take over and he was alarmed at how 95% of parents don’t read to their children. Another stats that got a lot of talking points is home languages where African home language speakers perform significantly worse than English home speakers, Fanana’s approach here was that the country needs to urgently implement diverse education systems and strategies where culture and mother tongue is prioritised.
Should the country be worried and does this research fully capture the reality of literacy in South Africa?
A general consensus showed that Activators feel that our country is in distress. Most agree that our country’s literacy levels are very low and this is due to uneducated parents who struggle to read to their children as well as a poor education system – specifically looking at ECD (Early Childhood Development). Evidence is seen in everyday life, mostly in the most poor and marginalised communities. For example; low rates of supervision of children, high dropout and unemployment rates and crime. Activators feel that the information or the facts given in the presented infographics present a very good place to start. Tshepo feels that by virtue of being in this sector and partaking in this webinar, he has learned so a lot. He says this research and the new focus will help strengthen clarity, informed decision making and approach selection in Activator projects.
Did anything come out of this webinar?
More than anything Activators that took part felt a strong need to act, to do something. Some admitted that they have walked away with a mandate while others started to see loopholes in their current interventions and were adamant that this information will factor in to creating improvements to their projects.
What makes ACTIVATE! platforms work efficiently is the conducive and safe environments created that encourage sharing and genuineness. Zamokuhle shared her story demonstrating that every challenge can be a lesson learned.
Zamokuhle admitted to only starting to read and write for comprehension a bit later in her life and that is when she was in grade 4 to 5 just above the age of 7. This was because early in her life her education was mired; her early years of school were in the deprived deep rural KZN. Things took a turn when she moved to Johannesburg. Regardless of her humble beginnings, she says she was determined to improve so every time she come across an old newspaper or magazine, she would put her partial literacy skills to test. It. In high school she came in second place in a book reading and review completion and this was huge because it was a begging of new chapter in her life. She ended her story by saying that it does matter how you start but what matters more how you finish. To construe what she said; teachers are there to cultivate but the learning is up to you.
Life stories, ideas to actual interventions, to conclude this extract see below what literacy initiatives are run by Activators today and other activities they are part of:
Lillian is a Journalism student at Rosebank College.
Lwando is the cofounder of Rural 200 youth communities (R200Y) a social entrepreneurial organisation which comprises of three departments (education, agriculture and technology).
Tshepo is a facilitator for an after-school literacy program at Sparks school in Bramely.
Zamokuhle recently started a women empowerment movement called #TheIdealWomanIsYourself encouraging girls to stay in school and pursue tertiary education.