Category: Creative Learners | Reading Promotion | 29 May, 2013 - 20:00← BACK
This learning brief describes how the Zoe Reading Project in Rawsonville, Western Cape became a resounding success and led to the expansion of a programme that now reaches over 6800 South African children. The Zoe Project is an adaptation of the creative story-telling groups started by illiterate women of the Breede River Valley in the 1960s with the purpose of orally passing on community folk stories to younger generations. The story-telling groups were eventually organised under the auspices of the Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans (SBA). The Zoe Project is now centrally managed and funded through the SBA non-profit organisation. It currently has a full complement of 52 Reading Facilitators, a Project Manager, and two Project Assistants.
The Zoe Reading Project is a response to a need for literacy development, and a need to foster of a love for reading amongst youngsters. In the modern context, where electronic media such as television, computer games, cell phones, and the Internet dominate education and entertainment, the art of storytelling and using imagination is gradually disappearing. While technology and new media channels have greatly improved some learning initiatives, the negative impact has meant that young children have shorter attention spans and that constant visual stimulation is needed to achieve learning. Lack of imagination and interpretation skills are additional side effects that stifle children’s ability to think creatively and express themselves adequately.
Reading books and listening to stories helps children develop their creative skills, imagination and comprehension abilities. Unfortunately, in economically marginalised communities like Rawsonvile in the Western Cape of South Africa, the socio-economic situation of most households prevents the regular purchase of reading books, newspapers, or magazines. As such, many children do not have adequate access to books. Low literacy levels also discourage parents, guardians, or older siblings from spending time reading stories to younger children. Furthermore, access to well-stocked Public Libraries and appropriate reading material for children aged 4 to 9 years old is limited. In essence, children in these communities do not develop reading habits, and this perpetuate a cycle of diminishing reading, imaginative thought, and story telling.
From January 2011 to October 2011, the SBA piloted and refined a children’s reading program for 1025 children in two districts of the Western Cape. The practical lessons learnt from this pilot phase, combined with the impact reports and feedback from programme facilitators, schools, and parents enabled the drafting of an expanded concept proposal. The SBA successfully secured funding for this new programme, and in 2012 it extended the reading initiative to reach over 6800 children in 14 districts within the Cape Flats and Paarl area.
The SBA Project Manager individually selected Reading Facilitators who then underwent a yearlong SBA-sponsored training course in Early Childhood Development. They were therefore appropriately equipped to assist young children in their development. Significant energy, project budget, and diversity of training materials were expended on offering essential training to these facilitators. This improved the quality and impact of the SBA reading programme implementation.
Each facilitator then started her own reading group at a covenant, safe and accessible venue in the local community. To market the concept and the Zoe brand, SBA spent time informing local churches, schools, libraries, clubs and the press of the new reading group initiative. Each reading group was provided with a library of 60 storybooks specifically selected for children aged between five and eleven years old. These reading groups act as small neighbourhood libraries and allow members to borrow three books a week to take home.
A unique characteristic of the Zoe Reading Project is the in-built ripple effect on reading within the community. As the target children in each reading group develop their own reading capacity and blossom a love of reading and story telling, they spread the stories and books to their homes and to their schools. The result has been that the Zoe Reading Program, which originally only planned to recruit 4000 children to its reading groups, managed to recruit over 6800 by August 2012.
A number of parents, teachers and reading group facilitators who were a part of the Zoe reading groups were interviewed about the programme impacts. They indicated that the programme was a success because they saw improvement in children’s behaviour; progress in their reading, writing and listening skills; a positive change in the children’s capacity for narrative and comprehension of plot; a growth in their memory and imaginative ability.
Suggestions for implementing similar reading groups
The following process steps were taken to ensure project success. In replicating this project, or in serving as a case study for other implementers or policy developers, we offer these eight suggestions:
1) Employ the services of an experienced and passionate Project Manager with strong organisational and inter-personal skills
2) Employ the services of field-based Project Assistants
3) Recruit appropriately trained Reading Group Facilitators
4) Build strong administrative capacity
5) Partner with like-minded organisations
6) Keep a well-stocked library of appropriate materials and resources relevant to the project
7) Brand and Market the initiative
8) Monitor progress and evaluate impact
9) Plan for the Future
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This learning brief describes how the Zoe Reading Project in the Western Cape became a resounding success and led to the expansion of a programme that now reaches over 6 800 South African children.