Assessment of our 2016 Beaufort West Literacy Intervention

Between 2016 and 2017, Biblionef SA undertook an intensive 2-year reading intervention with nine Primary Schools in Beaufort West. With funding from the SALI Trust, we carried out a mixed-impact study to assess the intervention’s effect on the teachers and the children during the two years. The results were remarkable and have shaped how we work today.

In 2020, the SALI Trust granted us additional funding to evaluate whether the teachers were still using the methodologies taught and if the books were still being used. Initially set to be completed in 2021, our project was delayed due to COVID-19. With understanding and support from the SALI Trust, we conducted our assessment in May 2021. Marlene Rousseau, Childhood Specialist and our partner on this project, carried out the following activities to assess the situation and reinforce the prior learning:

  1. Reflective Forums were held at all nine schools. Rousseau held the sessions with the Heads of Departments (H.O.Ds) and the Foundation Phase teachers to determine whether the teachers were using the methodologies associated with the reading for meaning training and whether the teachers were still using the donation of books.
  2. In-class demonstrations were held to introduce the methodology. Rousseau was asked to demonstrate the reading for meaning training in four of the nine schools where new teachers had joined.
  3. A voluntary competition was set up for learners. The purpose of this was threefold:
    • To offer the children a fun and uplifting activity, so needed during COVID-19.
    • To determine the extent to which Grades 1 to 3 children could express their response to and interpretations of a story through drawing and writing.
    • We were keen to see whether the children in Grades 2 and 3 could write sentences that adults can read.
    • You can see some of the learners’ drawings here.

During the reflective sessions and the in-class demonstrations, Rousseau reported witnessing the detrimental effects of COVID-19 on the schools. Each time Rousseau walked into a school, she was greeted with silence. Teachers may not walk down rows or alongside children’s tables to see whether learners are doing a task correctly. Consequently, teachers can only see which children need assistance after completing an activity.

Break times are quiet, with Grades 1 to 3 learners sitting outside on painted dots 1.5 metres apart. They may not sing, recite rhymes or poems, stand up, play soccer, or skip and clap games.

Rousseau discovered that six of the nine schools’ systemic results improved by 100% to 200% from 2016 (the project’s first year) to 2018 (the year after the project had ended). The doubling and tripling of the results are remarkable. Although the marks are below average compared to the schools in the coastal towns and cities, they are still a serious indicator of Biblionef’s literacy intervention’s strength. Angela Schaffer-Smith, an Education Evaluator, confirmed Rousseau’s observation. In addition, Rousseau found that 60%-70% of the books were ‘worn’, which indicates that the books are being well-used by the teachers and learners.

Although several teachers have left the schools and are considering the effects of COVID-19, we are still pleased with the finding that some teachers are still using the methodology and the books are still being used. We are grateful to the SALI Trust for this wonderful opportunity; we can now make a compelling case for our reading for meaning training. Furthermore, we can learn from Rousseau’s overall findings to strengthen our existing training programme.