We are working on an exciting new project with the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW). For one of their interventions, the NACCW have two field-workers at eight high schools in KZN where they support learners with psycho-social issues and interact with them on a more personal level than teachers can. Results have been very positive ¬– in some cases the fieldworkers’ presence has even been linked to lower absentee rates at school.

The NACCW would now like to support learners with their academics, particularly failed or ‘progressed’ learners (those who have been pushed to the next grade without passing), and they approached us to pilot reading groups in eight KZN high schools.

We did stress that FunDza is not a ‘remedial’ organisation – that is, we cannot help learners with learning difficulties who need specific interventions to help them with the basics of reading. However, we believe that many of these failed or progressed grade 8 and 9 learners are young people who have been lost in a system of big classes in under-resourced schools, and we were hopeful that our resources would show them that reading could be meaningful to them, as well as accessible and exciting. And, if we can change learners’ attitudes to reading, then we are one step closer to making them into habitual readers, which is the ‘game-changer’ as far as literacy is concerned.

So I went to Pietermaritzburg to train the child-care workers in running reading clubs using our new ‘funzine’ publication – Double Trouble and much much more. We had two days of workshops where I took them through a few of the sessions with them doing the warm-ups, reading, discussing and writing that they would do with their own groups, and the material certainly was interesting and stimulating to the participants themselves. The funzine has also proved in previous workshops to provide a very fruitful base for all sorts of activities. The field-workers felt that the material would be exciting to the learners, and were looking forward to trying it.

Their one concern was not with the material itself but with the logistics of the programme: learners would quickly identify that it was only the failed learners being selected for these groups, and so there would be a stigma attached. There was a suggestion that the programme be open to others as well, and this will be investigated and perhaps trialled at one or two schools.

The groups have started, and so far the feedback has been very positive. The material is being understood and enjoyed by learners (this was one of our concerns as content was edited for simplicity but were still real and authentic texts – not structured readers). There has been an enthusiastic response with many learners wanting to attend the sessions (it was also part of a holiday programme so attendance was open to more than just progressed learners). At one school learners have started coming early to school to read from the books we have supplied as well, and an English teacher has commandeered the material too! The schools generally have been pleased with the programme.

FunDza and the NACCW are very pleased at this initial positive response, and the NACCW is trying to find funding to expand this project into NACCW’s Gauteng schools.