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READ’s Project Experience
READ’s focus has always been on long-term teacher development and not short-term gains. Despite READ’s realisation that a new approach to education is needed to fulfil the requirements of a future knowledge-based generation, several projects that have made a significant impact on education, deviated from the READ model. These projects needed to show quick, short-term gains regarding improved Annual National Assessments (ANA) results, and this was achieved by following a highly prescriptive educator development programme, which left little room for differentiation, initiative or development. The challenge has thus been to adapt the READ model to suit these project needs whilst still providing a quality intervention.
Although READ has been successful in developing teachers to the required levels of these projects, there is a limit to the progress that can be achieved and very little sustainable, long-term results can come from them. For this reason READ opened a Research and Development department the job of which is to rework and align READ’s curriculum and assessment systems in order to stay current.
There is a palpable sense that the country’s education sector is entering a new phase. Since 1994, South Africa has been addressing the issue of access to education and is now addressing quality. This has been made clear through several advancements, some of which were formalised in 2013. The focus on quality has prompted READ to greater reflection and to research the systems, tools and resources used in our projects.
Several project models have been written up so that successes and challenges can be documented for future use. Specific research has also been carried out. A study on the role of lesson plans as a teacher development tool was undertaken and reported upon. The READ Resource file, developed for teachers, was born out of the need to improve teacher content knowledge for differentiated lessons as well as for resources that could fill the gap.
The National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) Report, published in 2012, gave guidelines as to what would be necessary for Foundation Phase teacher development going forward. This report, which has been carefully analysed by READ, provides valuable insights into the challenges facing education. Many of the issues covered, such as first language teaching, the transition from Home Language to English First Additional Language, and the need for graded texts in Home Languages, have already been addressed in READ’s projects.
Partnerships with other NGOs and donor agencies both increase support and allow for the sharing of strengths and skills to affect change. READ has worked with other experts and organisations in the education sphere to maintain the high pedagogical standards expected by our clients and donors. Partnerships with educational officials, especially in those projects where READ provides systemic support, has led to knowledge transfer, both from within and outside the organisation. READ has gained valuable experience, particularly through working with schools in the Western Cape, and collaborating with the Kagiso Trust and education officials in the Free State on whole district programmes.
As part of a new knowledge growth and sharing initiative, READ has begun a series of seminars, with educational experts presenting topics of interest to those working in the field of literacy education. These seminars are also providing practical experiential examples of how challenges in the field have been solved by those working closely with teachers, principals and care-givers.
At the 2013 Pan African Reading Conference in Kenya, READ presented a paper on the findings of a pilot project carried out using Sunshine Online, an online literacy and numeracy programme developed in New Zealand and based on the resources used by READ. The initial research took place during the second half of 2012 and its aim was to determine the viability of a digital literacy programme in South Africa. The programme was offered free of charge to a small group of schools for a limited time. Connectivity was a major determinant its success and is the defining factor of the successful uptake of online programmes. The lessons learnt from this innovative research are priceless and READ is still investigating a possible partnership with the National Department of Education for using the product.
READ has also been invited to present a paper at the Frankfurt Book Fair on work done to provide e-learning materials to rural schools.
As the social landscape in South Africa changes, READ remains committed to working to improve the educational prospects of the children in this country. READ is a learning organisation, dedicated to constant improvement and educational excellence.