1. Creating sound conditions for language to thrive

Rather than to rely on sometimes sterile formal instruction that could frighten and overwhelm an illiterate participant, the programme created the conditions under which language could develop spontaneously in its own way within a secure environment. The approach is summarised under 5 and 6 below.


Monitoring progress

A check was made by regional co-ordinators and then administration staff in the central Durban office prior to the establishment of a learning class, of the facilitator’s matriculation certificate, identity document, application form, name lists and availability of the expected twenty learners, and venue. Broad-based monitoring of quality and other matters was carried out by recruited community members, who gave assistance and support without any financial recompense other than a modest travel allowance.

Further community mobilisation

Local and district stakeholders were identified and incorporated into projects wherever possible. With District Councillors on board, wards and lesser social components tended to fall into line more easily. There was then a uniform understanding of processes. Churches such as the Shembe and those affiliated to the South African Council of Churches were also significant role-players. Many people were drawn to these programmes very strongly if the churches supported them.

Straightforward methodology

Three main categories of learning outcomes were pursued, including skills, knowledge and values/attitudes. At the end of each lesson a check was made to ensure that each of the three had been addressed well. Knowledge and skills were actively used in context. Lessons were often introduced by a story or discussion, and exercises were evaluated by encouraging feedback. Group work was used for building words and eventually writing sentences, describing the events in pictures and encouraging free thinking about such topics as home industries, domestic violence and substance abuse.

Local community themes

Local community themes formed the subject content of the curriculum. This concept was dependent on research and the careful investigation of community needs. If there were no clinics, for instance, the purification of water would be part of the curriculum since it carried with it skills that were crucial to the welfare of the particular community that had identified the lack of clean water as a pressing need. As a starting point, within four months people could learn to read in their mother tongue, with 128 hours spent on the programme.

A flexible approach

A great effort was made to ensure that learners 'learnt how to learn'. The teacher-centred approaches were therefore rejected in favour of a ‘constructivist view’. Communities had a choice of who would be recognized as a facilitator; a factor that made the best candidates step forward to prove their credentials. The implications for improved social stability and the addressing of negative activities involving young adults within communities were clear.

Matriculant facilitators

The selection of matriculants (those who had completed twelve years of formal schooling successfully, with superior achievements) as facilitators was important for these young people, since there is probably no quicker way to learn that to facilitate learning for others. The improvement of their chances of entry to further study in colleges or universities could not be stressed too strongly. Matriculant facilitators were supported by a stipend. Their entry to the programme was eased by a simplification of bureaucratic entry requirements, as shown later under 'Monitoring Progress'.

Implementing community involvement

From the outset, communities were drawn in to give their opinions, advice and ideas. ‘Community mobilisers’ went into the field and invited people’s contributions with the words: “Talk to us”. Indeed the term Masifundisane means “We learn together”. Yet another rallying cry was: “Each one, teach one”. A problem-solving methodology was reaffirmed for the literacy programmes.

Initial steps

Particular attention was given to rural areas, and the density of unemployment, poverty and consequent illiteracy figures were identified and clarified. It was resolved to try and address rural conditions through the programme so that people would be reaffirmed and developed as self-sufficient and productive citizens where their home communities had emerged historically.

Attempts would be made to address such other matters as health including AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with developments in health also achieved through the literary focus of the programme.

Five objectives

The strategic plan that emerged after the Cuba visit reflected five objectives, namely to: 

  • Provide easy access to the programme for illiterate adults
  • Create partnerships with various parties who could add critical resources to 
  • the initiative 
  • Create relevant curricula
  • Train facilitators, and monitor and evaluate the programme effectively
  • Develop institutional capacities.


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