78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa cannot read for meaning*.
There is an education crisis in our beloved country, with very few children reaching their full learning potential.
The reasons for this crisis are complex and rooted in the country’s past, but the biggest contributing factor is the very low literacy rates amongst schoolgoing children.
78% (± 780 000 children) is already a significant majority that cannot read, but what makes the problem even more severe is that is skewed towards poor children and is a strong contributor to the “poverty trap”, where being been born into a poor household means you are more likely to stay poor, compared with your peers from more affluent backgrounds.
If children are not taught to read, they are unlikely to make significant progress with their education and lift themselves (and future generations) out of poverty.
The Wordworks app is an early literacy intervention helping parents and practitioners to establish quality early literacy foundations in their children. We are proud to partner with Wordworks, a South African non-profit organisation that focuses on early language and literacy development in the first eight years of children’s lives. The content on our app has been drawn directly from Wordworks material and we have translated it for consumption on a digital platform, tweaking it where necessary but ultimately staying true to our shared commitment to promoting the improvement of children’s early language and literacy, in mother tongue where possible.
It provides economic opportunity to children by unlocking the future learning potential, as well as up-skilling early childhood practitioners.
It improves lives by addressing the arguably the biggest issue holding South Africa as a country back, namely extremely low literacy rates.
This approach is different to existing solutions because it specifically focuses on empowering low literacy parents and other primary care givers to stimulate and establish literacy foundations in their children. Instead of assuming that the parents themselves can read, it makes use of audio files where the caregiver can listen to the cues for the activity of the day, so that they can then assist the child.
If successful, in five years our project will have radically improved the literacy rates of young children in South Africa, and ideally elsewhere in the developing world.
Why support Wordworks in general, and this onboarding campaign in particular
The main barrier to uptake of this revolutionary app is the parent’s lack of understanding of the importance of early stimulation and the critical role that they play in educating their child.
An important part of our process is therefore our activation - or onboarding - events, where we take parents through a presentation highlighting how the brain develops and the simple things they can do with their children that will have lasting impact.
We have a wonderful and enthusiastic group of volunteers at each event that help each parent or practitioner to download the app, and make sure that they are confident using it before they leave, and that they understand why it is so critical for them to step up to the role of being their child's first teacher.
Generally, uptake of the application is then easy as we have created demand for the product.
We are conscious of the users’ economic circumstances and have therefore designed the application to run in offline mode, meaning that they do not incur any data costs after downloading the application (which they do at our onboarding event using WiFi that Reach provides for this purpose).
We move from town to town, inviting parents and caregivers to our onboarding events, as and when we raise funding to enable us to do so. We are already funded to offer events in Kayamandi in Stellenbosch, but the predominantly Afrikaans-speaking** community of Cloetesville won't learn about Wordworks without your help.
(**Afrikaans, 13534, 94.41%. English, 358, 2.50%. Sign language, 152, 1.06%. isiXhosa, 120, 0.84%. Other, 65, 0.45% according to 2011 census)
Your support will help us to reach more children, empower more parents and practitioners, and ultimately take large and meaningful steps towards addressing the education crisis we find ourselves in right now, ultimately helping to grow our economy through breaking the literacy poverty trap that exists in our and many other developing countries.
What exactly will my contribution be used for?
All funds raised will go directly to preparing for and executing an onboarding workshop in Cloetesville. At these activations, parents and caregivers from specially identified ECD centres and creches in the area will be introduced to basic concepts of brain development in children (and the importance of quality stimulation), given WiFi access and provided with assistance to help download the app to their phone and receive training in how to best use the app.
Every onboarding that we do incurs many costs that we need to cover in order to make it as successful as possible. Some of the main costs include:
1) pre-event planning and post-event wrap up
2) creation and printing of event specific collateral (including invitations and event stationery)
3) transport for activation team (including volunteers and tech team)
4) goodie bags for parents and practitioners
5) refreshments for participants (food and beverages)
6) data for WiFi routers
7) operational costs
8) cash awards for most engaged parents
(9) hosting and technical support
10) data analysis and reporting costs
All we need is 300 people to donate an average of R100 each and we will have made our target, covering our costs for rolling this out in Cloetesville, before we start preparing for the next town!
Why is Wordworks a solution that can affect the growth of South Africa's economy as a whole?
The first 2000 days of life are pivotal for any human being's development. This has been shown repeatedly by every science that studies early childhood development. Low cost interventions that facilitate and support nurturing care for children in their earliest days contribute to lifelong health, wellbeing and productivity. Individuals who experience poor early development suffer a loss of about a quarter of adult average income a year. And these negative effects add up, keeping these individuals and their family in a desperate cycle of poverty.
During the next 15 years, with investment in our solutions and others like it, there is potential for long-term individual and societal gains and for the achievement of sustainable development goals of the country at national level and beyond.
At scale, it is a low-cost solution to a massive problem, so of enormous value to not just the children in question, but South Africa as a whole.
To date we have followed a structured roll out process working with ECD centres and other organisations. As we scale we are going to develop other means of raising awareness, the most likely scenario is a high quality explainer video that can be flighted on national TV.
We also have plans to partner with large national retailers who can help us to roll out Wordworks to their staff, leading to a more empowered and dignified workforce who are actively engaging in their children's futures, ultimately having the potential to uplift vast numbers of people across the country and beyond.
Think of how much more we can do, with your help!
What other approaches have been tried in the past? What is the insight or innovation that differentiates Wordworks, and how is it better than what already exists?
Learning to read does not begin at school.
Research from Harvard and other leading Universities indicates that early stimulation is vital, ideally from birth, but at the very least between the ages of three and five where the brain is most sensitive to key influences.
We wanted to produce a programme that focused on helping parents during the critical pre-school years.
The project was conceptualised after studying research in the USA that showed that sending SMS's with literacy tips and advice to parents yielded positive results.
However we also knew that there is a literacy poverty trap in South Africa, where children born into low literacy households are likely to be furthest behind.
Sending text based SMS's would not work with low literacy parents.
We therefore developed an application with images and sound that could be accessed by a low literacy parent, meaning we could contribute to improvements in literacy even in the most difficult circumstances.
The potential impact of Wordworks
A large-scale adoption of Wordworks would make a meaningful contribution to the low literacy rates in South Africa and ideally other developing countries.
By establishing good early literacy foundations we hope to make the process of learning to read far easier, building a love of books and ultimately a love of learning.
It has been estimated that a 1% improvement in the average pass mark for Matric would result in a $1 billion increase in the national GDP of South Africa .
Given that we are working at the very early stages of the education system and there will be many other stakeholders involved in ensuring children are ultimately well educated by the end of Grade 12, it is difficult to place a specific monetary value on our impact. However, if one could bring about a 10% improvement in Matric results over a decade, the impact on GDP would be significant, especially if one then looks at the earning potential of an individual across an entire career.
*according to a recent PIRLS report
For the inspiration of our campaign title, we offer humble bows of thanks to the late, great Alan Paton: one of South Africa's most revered authors and anti-apartheid activists.