While literacy has been a focus of the Nobalisa Program since its’ inception in 2014 our focus is sharpening as we become more intentional and make better strategic decisions. Tackling literacy is no easy task as Gene McAravey put it: “Everyone knows it’s the biggest challenge but increasingly over the past few years we’re getting hard data to confirm the scale of the challenge; it’s bigger and worse than imagined and the volume of challenges is intense!” 2019 has brought a new energy and drive into our team as we try to tackle these immense challenges.
Because there are no easy answers to this literacy challenge, it is a space for trying different solutions and innovation. One of the ways in which we are doing this is by trialing the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) methodology and seeing how it grows in this context. This educational approach draws on strengths of small group sessions with learners of different ability levels grouped together and a Nobalisa assigned to each group. We are finding that already in grade one, there are huge gaps in skill level among learners and the goal is to offer additional support before that gap in understanding widens. Building a sense of rhythm and regularity for the learners involved as well as creating intimacy from a smaller facilitator-student ratio we believe will increase our impact with our learners.
Reflecting on the changes thus far, Program Mentor Sekiwe Mageba (Seki) says, “It has changed the way we work as Nobalisa because everyone is responsible for a certain group of kids. You have to look after your group and make sure that they get what you are saying and that they get all the help that they need.”
Time in schools is precious and thus one of the big challenges is negotiating a balance between different schools' and teachers' needs as well as learners' needs. “Because we’re only seeing schools twice a week, we need to be modelling best practice in everything we do to make it worthwhile for the learners and schools involved,” explained Program coordinator, Sarah Caine, touching on the hard work required to build and sustain relationships while negotiating these tensions.
IsiXhosa foundation phase literacy resources are another big challenge. Even though momentum is building around home language resource generation, it takes a long time for this literature to be turned into graded resources that government can roll out. “You don’t need fancy resources; covered books with colourful pictures - that stuff's great - but if we hang around and wait for that to happen we’ll be waiting for a long time,” Sarah commented. It is not an uncommon sight in the office to see laminators steaming and the guillotine working overtime as elastic bands are stretched across piles of neatly stacked flash cards. The Nobalisa have played a very large role in sharing their knowledge of Xhosa in order to produce resources. As facilitators, with years of experience working with children in schools, the Nobalisa team are an invaluable resource, driving this process and growing a pool of resources that are exciting and context appropriate (on a budget!).
The goal of the Nobalisa program has always been to grow a love of stories and reading in young children. Reading, story-telling and literacy remain the primary focus of the Nobalisa program but the methodology has changed. “I feel like we are new as Nobalisa; this year we came with a new strategy and it’s a good one” reflected Seki.
“I believe the program is going phezulu, nyani – it is going up, serious!” Seki laughs.