[Guest blog-post] Takalani Sesame

[Below is a guest blog-post written by Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane of Takalani Sesame. I usually don’t allow unsolicited guest blog posts but I really liked Takalani’s innovative way of engaging with children on serious issues in playful ways. I also watched Takalani as a kid :) I especially like their development of an HIV-positive muppet (Kami) to help inform children about HIV and destigmatise children and adults who are HIV-positive, and the translation of some of their programs into African languages. I’ll let Lerato tell you a little more about their current innovations… ]

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Research-Informed & Data-Driven Children’s Television Goes Online: The Takalani Sesame Approach

– Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane

Inform, improve, measure … repeat. This research philosophy operates across all Sesame Workshop productions, including Takalani Sesame. Sesame productions reach 156 million children daily in more than 150 countries making it the world’s single largest informal educator. Since 2000, the Takalani Sesame education team has contributed to the pool of more than 1 000 studies worldwide that Sesame Workshop has conducted over its 40-year existence.

Takalani Sesame regularly undergoes formative assessments, finding out what young children are learning and what they like. We incorporate their feedback. Some changes defy adult preferences and challenge professional experiences, but that’s alright because we have a focus: the most important voice is the child’s.

Being a data-driven show, Takalani Sesame gathers significant amounts of information from its target markets. In addition to our core audience (3 to 7 year olds), groups that matter are their grown-ups (parents and teachers) and their older siblings (highly influential others).

Where is Takalani Sesame active?

While best known for being a television programme, Takalani Sesame is also broadcast on radio, and there are regular outreach events in the communities we serve. We aim to reach children in every way possible, including through the most up-to-date technological ways. Most recently, we expanded our digital footprint by launching a dedicated YouTube channel alongside our two websites, social media identities and instant-messaging efforts.

The Takalani Sesame YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/channel/UCSOzE3-7BQn7GtiftoiIRsg) is updated regularly and features episode segments in five languages – Sepedi, Afrikaans, isiZulu, Tshivenda and English. These are bite-size “edutainment” offerings that not only embrace multilingualism, but also help to further the educational mandates as outlined by our stakeholders and partners – the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Sanlam, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Sesame Workshop.

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How is our target market using digital?

To understand our digital visitors better, we spent time in rural and urban crèches and primary schools. There were expected confirmations: more capable cellphones are getting more affordable and our lowly paid teachers are buying them; as the line between feature phones and smart phones narrows, mobile capabilities are advancing faster than some users can keep up with; data remains too pricey for many, even the employed, so free instant-messaging services and lower-cost internet usage dominate; and, the digital divide is also about age and younger educators are more aware of what is possible than older educators.

Case Study: Road Safety in South Africa

When Takalani Sesame piloted a road-safety initiative, the project team undertook research at several levels:

  • A literature review of road safety locally and abroad;
  • Focus groups with parents, teachers and community members before material development;
  • Preliminary testing of drafts at a volunteer school using retired teachers as data collectors;
  • Assessments after teacher training to see what could happen when development is rolled out at scale; and,
  • A monitoring and evaluation component by an independent entity.

All that before we could introduce the initiative to South Africa.

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The transfer of knowledge applies across all our platforms. We’ve produced supplementary textbooks, educational materials, outreach programmes, literacy projects and many other initiatives tailored to the needs of the communities we serve.

Case Study: HIV/Aids Awareness Among Children

As part of our launch of the HIV-positive muppet Kamogelo (AKA Kami) in 2004, independent researchers confirmed that a child who has watched Takalani Sesame is four times more likely to have some knowledge of HIV/Aids than a child who hasn’t. Parents and educators who watched our television special “Talk to Me”, were twice as likely to talk to their children about HIV/Aids than those who had not watched it.

A national survey commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation further showed that our young viewers demonstrate measurable gains in HIV/Aids knowledge and attitudes, including basic knowledge of the disease, blood safety, de-stigmatisation, and coping with illness.

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[Image credit: Sesame Workshop]

Supporting the DBE’s White Paper on e-Education

In addition to wide research and market studies, Takalani Sesame leans on its partners for a universe of data and policies. This is especially true of the partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

A case in point is our embrace of the DBE’s White Paper on e-Education. We have taken up the mandate for Takalani Sesame to live in digital spaces. In 2013 we introduced a fun website [www.takalanisesame.co.za], a Facebook page and a Twitter handle @LoveTakalani. In 2014, we unveiled a special parenting, teacher resource and information-based website for educators and parents [www.earlychildhood-takalanisesame.co.za] and this year we’ve added the YouTube channel to further extended our digital footprint.

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The big reveal during our most recent site-based digital-behaviour information gathering exercises was that a popular service was the e-publication of research and policy papers. We intentionally select practice-focused scholarship and this seems to be paying off.

Interestingly though, we found we spent most of our grassroots excursion time teaching teachers how to use their feature and smart phones. And once they figure out how to go online, wow…

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Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane is the Senior Multimedia Executive at Ochre Media, co-producers of Takalani Sesame and producers of many other groundbreaking programmes. She is a mother, teacher and activist with 30 years of experience in over 20 countries.

Links I liked…

dead fish

Q&A with Shelley O’Carroll

shelThe aim of the Q&A series is to get an inside look into some of South Africa’s leading education academics, policy-makers and activists. This is the twenty-fourth interview in the series. Shelley O’Carroll is the Director of Wordworks.

1)   How did you get into education, can you summarise your journey to get to where you are?

I’ve always been a bit of an idealist and can remember having a very keen sense of injustice during my school years in the late 1980’s. I was a bit late to be an activist, but left school as Mandela was released and for me there was a strong sense that I had a responsibility to contribute to a process of redress and do what I could to improve the lives of people who had been deprived of opportunities. I chose to become a teacher and majored in psychology. While I was busy with my undergrad studies I was involved in an adult literacy project in Khayamandi, and looking back, I think that was probably when I realised what a gift you give when you help people to learn to read. When I finished my HDE, I applied for a Commonwealth Scholarship and went to the Institute of Education in London where I did my masters in Psychology of Education. I came back to South Africa after my masters, taught at a bridging school in Joburg and then went to WITS to do a BEd (Remedial) as I needed an honours in order to register for an educational psychology internship. This gave me great clinical experience working with children who struggled with reading. I was a part time research assistant while I did my BEd and really enjoyed writing and being part of a research team. After I completed my BEd, I came back to the Cape to do an internship and registered as an Educational Psychologist. I worked for a few years as a school counsellor and then in private practice doing psychoeducational assessments, and specialised in working with children with reading difficulties. I also did some community work with Grade One children at a very disadvantaged school. For a while, I felt like I was living in two different countries – doing assessments with children from ex-model C and private schools – and then spending the rest of my time working with children who had so few opportunities and were so far behind even in their first year of school. I applied for an NRF scholarship and went back to London to do a doctorate – I really wanted to better understand how to help children as they started learning to read in Grade One. After I completed my PhD, I stopped working as an Educational Psychologist and set up a non-profit organisation with two colleagues.

 2)   What does your average week look like?

I juggle quite a bit – and rush around a lot! I am a mother of two young children and so I tend to start work at 7am, do school lifts and spend time with my children in the afternoon and then get back into work again most evenings. I spend some of my working day running Wordworks, managing projects, funders and budgets – and increasingly working with partner organisations who use our resources in their work. I invest quite a bit of time working with our programme teams on materials development and guidelines for training. Whenever possible, I try to find time to read and share new things I learn. I’d like to be spending more time writing and documenting our work.

3)   While I’m sure you’ve read many books and articles in your career, if you had to pick one or two that have been especially influential for you which one or two would they be and why?

An old favourite is ‘Literacy before schooling(Ferreiro and Teberosky, 1982) – this really helped shape my thinking about how, given opportunities, children try to make sense of printed words and written language long before teachers in formal school settings begin ‘teaching them to read’. Apprenticeship in thinking(Rogoff, 1990) made me realise how children (mine included) were being apprenticed into literacy through daily experiences with print and oral language.  Other articles and books by Connie Juel, Morag Stuart, Brian Byrne, and Linnea Ehri helped me to understand what skills and knowledge children must have in order to learn to read – and how much children’s thinking has to shift in order to understand how written language works.

When I look at my bookshelf, I realise that the other books that have been influential have been a set of Handbooks of Early Literacy and Language’ (Vol 1-3). These consist of articles written by a number of leading researchers and when I first read them I just remember being struck by how much research there was on how important young children’s language and emergent literacy was for later literacy development at school level. This was not part of mainstream thinking about literacy in South Africa at the time, and even now, evaluations of literacy performance and interventions to improve literacy tend to focus on teaching and learning in classroom contexts, largely ignoring what happens before children begin school in homes and preschool settings.

4)   Who do you think are the current two or three most influential/eminent thinkers in your field and why?

I think this would be easier to answer if I a.) had more time to read and b.) had a clearly defined field of research. Although I position myself in the field of early language and literacy development, our work spans home, community and school contexts and children from birth to seven years. There are so many areas of work within this broad field, and I probably know a bit about some of the leading thinkers, but not enough to really comment with any authority. Having said that, I think Lynn Murray, Peter Cooper, Zahir Vally and Mark Tomlinson’s research on booksharing with toddlers in Khayelitsha is groundbreaking and really shows the potential impact and value of sharing books with young children.

5)   What do you think is the most under-researched area in education in South Africa?

It will come as no surprise that I think the field of early language and literacy learning is significantly under-researched. We need more evidence about what children begin school knowing, not only what happens at school. We need more evidence about what kinds of interventions work to improve children’s early learning, and models of how to take good programmes to scale. We need to understand better how families can play a role in children’s education at school and at home.

7) You are currently the director of WordWorks – can you give us some information about what WordWorks is all about, its aims and approach and maybe some of your plans for the future?

Wordworks is a non-profit organisation that has been working in the field of early language and literacy development for the past ten years. We’ve developed programmes and resources for parents, volunteers, home-visitors and teachers of young children, with the aim of supporting them to build young children’s language and early literacy. Over the past few years we’ve also contributed to sharing knowledge about early language and literacy through policy briefs and reports.

Our team offers direct training and mentoring to schools in Cape Town, and we also work with partner organisations who we train and resource to deliver our programmes as part of their work in schools and communities.

We wish to remain a small organisation and our aim is to grow our reach through sharing knowledge, skills and resources, and building the capacity of schools, communities and organisations.

7b) As I understand it WordWorks has been asked to do the training of all registered Grade R practitioners in the Western Cape? Can you give us an overview of the training and what the desired outcomes of the training are?

Thanks to donor funding from USAID, ELMA and JP Morgan, we are going to be working in partnership with the WCED to provide training for all Grade R teachers across the province in a balanced language approach, and to provide teaching resources we have developed over the past three years. Together with partners SDU, PSP and ELRU, we will reach 3000 teachers through training and supporting ECD Curriculum Advisors and Lead Teachers in all 8 Districts in the Province. The teachers will attend a 5 day block training and then be supported through monthly collaborative enquiry workshops over a period of 8 months. The training will be grounded in a balanced language approach to literacy, and aligned with provincial training of Grade 1-6 teachers as part of the provincial LITNUM strategy.

Our aim is that teachers will have more knowledge about how children learn to read and write and the important role that Grade R teachers can play in building language and early literacy. We also want to share practical resources and ideas about how to support young children’s learning in an age appropriate way. Without making Grade R a watered down Grade 1 year, very important language and early literacy skills can be developed if teachers have the skills, knowledge and resources.

8) I’m sure you are in a different space now than you were in a decade ago. What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

Be realistic about what can be achieved in a day.

9) What is the most rewarding and most frustrating thing about your job?

The most frustrating thing is that I never have enough time! I seldom end a day feeling like I finished what I wanted to do, and am constantly trying to fit in too much.

Apart from having too much work and too little time, there is very little I don’t like about my job. I work with a fabulous team of very dedicated people, and we have the privilege of contributing to change and making a difference to young children’s lives. It’s great to be reminded of how much good there is in the world, and most of our work is with volunteers and parents who inspire us with their commitment to children in their communities. We get to develop and share great resources and ideas – and are constantly humbled by what this means to people. We started off with the aim of supporting young children’s language and literacy development, but realise more and more how our work is impacting on women in communities.

10) If you ended up sitting next to the Minister of Basic Education on a plane and she asked you what you think are the three biggest challenges facing the South African ECD sector, what would you say?

  1. Improving the quality of teaching and learning through high quality, relevant and practical teacher training (both preservice training and ongoing professional development)
  1. Improving the status and working conditions of ECD professionals so that teaching young children becomes a more attractive career path and teachers are recognised for the important role they are playing.
  1. Increasing the provision of and access to non-centre based support for young children through supporting parents and caregivers (e.g. home-visiting programmes, workshops for parents).

 11)   If you weren’t in education what do you think you would be doing?

Research/advocacy.

 12)   Technology in education going forward – are you a fan or a sceptic?

 I think it can be useful, but doesn’t take the place of good old fashioned conversation and dedicated time given to children by an interested caregiver.

13) If you were given a R10 million research grant what would you use it for?

  1. To develop and/or validate tools that we could use to assess the impact of early intervention programmes for young children.
  2. To set up a team to research two related questions: a.) whether low cost interventions can lead to changes in parents’ and teachers’ knowledge about young children’s learning, and b.) to what extent/under what conditions changes in knowledge lead to changes in everyday parenting and teaching practice.
  3. Although I’d have run out of money by now…. a longitudinal study that followed a cohort of children and evaluated the impact of early interventions to improve language/literacy on children’s reading and writing development once they started school.

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Some of the others on my “to-interview” list include Veronica McKay, Thabo Mabogoane, Maurita-Glynn Weissenberg, Yael Shalem, Linda Richter and Volker Wedekind. If you have any other suggestions drop me a mail and I’ll see what I can do.

Previous participants (with links to their Q&A’s) include, Johan MullerUrsula HoadleyStephen TaylorServaas van der BergElizabeth HenningBrahm FleischMary Metcalfe, Martin Gustafsson, Eric AtmoreDoron IsaacsJoy OliverHamsa VenkatLinda Biersteker, Jonathan ClarkeMichael MyburghPercy Moleke , Wayne Hugo, Lilli PretoriusPaula EnsorCarol MacdonaldJill Adler and Andrew Einhorn and Carole Bloch.

An Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education (8-12 June)

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An Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education

Stellenbosch University  |  8 – 12 June 2015

Overview

The aim of the “Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education” course is to provide educational researchers with basic quantitative skills needed to interact with large-scale datasets in education. Although South Africa participates in a number of cross-national studies of educational achievement, few South African researchers possess the requisite quantitative skills needed to use these datasets (or others) in meaningful ways. This is problematic given that it is now widely acknowledged, both locally and internationally, that there is a serious need for education research that combines both qualitative and quantitative insights. It is for this reason that the course is primarily aimed at faculty and graduate students in education departments at South African universities. Other education researchers (from NGOs, think-tanks, policy forums) are also welcome to apply[1].

The course is intended to provide participants with a conceptual understanding of basic statistical procedures for quantitatively exploring and understanding data using a range of real-world data sets. The course introduces participants to measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode), non-central tendency (percentiles, quartiles, deciles etc.), and distribution (variance, standard deviation, inter-quartile range). Participants will learn how to calculate these statistics in STATA and also how to create graphs and tables that describe education data. The aim is always to equip participants with the skills needed to create their own graphs, tables and statistics in STATA and to interpret them accurately for their own purposes. All lectures and practicals will use South African education data, including SACMEQ, PIRLS, TIMSS, ANA and matric, as well as some administrative data (EMIS).

The course will be from 9am to 4:30pm each day from 8-12 June 2015 and will be held at Stellenbosch University. Each day there will be two interactive lectures and one extended practical session in STATA. No prior knowledge of STATA is necessary and participants need not have their own STATA license. The course will be held at a computer lab at Stellenbosch University and all computers will have STATA installed on them. The lecturers for the course will be Nic Spaull and Servaas van der Berg assisted by other ReSEP researchers.

Aims

The aim of the course is to take participants that have a basic understanding about statistics (means, frequencies, percentages etc.) and to help them to answer the following questions:

  • What is a standard deviation and how does one use and interpret it?
  • What is a standard error and how does it relate to a confidence interval?
  • What is a median? a mode? a percentile?
  • How does one decide how large a sample needs to be?
  • What is the difference between correlation and causation?
  • When can we say that one thing causes something else?
  • How do you create and interpret graphs in STATA? Including histograms, line charts, stacked bar charts, scatterplots, boxplots and kernel densities?

By the end of the course participants should be familiar enough with STATA and the basic concepts of descriptive statistics that they can generate and interpret graphs and tables in STATA by themselves. They should also have a basic understanding of the major educational datasets in South Africa (PIRLS, TIMSS, SACMEQ) and be able to answer their own questions using these datasets.

Costs

All costs for the course (including the course-fee, course-materials, transport to Stellenbosch and accommodation in Stellenbosch) will be covered by the PSPPD programme.

Applications

To apply to attend the course, please send an email to carinebrunsdon@sun.ac.za with your CV and a brief motivation as to why you think the course will be beneficial to you and your research (maximum 1-page). Please make the subject line of your email “PSPPD Data Analysis course” and indicate if you will be requiring transport to, and accommodation in, Stellenbosch and which city you will be coming from. There are limited spaces available (approximately 30) and preference will be given to senior faculty and PhD students, although masters students are also encouraged to apply.

Accessibility

If there are any applicants with special learning needs please indicate this on your application and we will do our best to accommodate your needs. We encourage you to liaise with us and the Office for Students with Special Learning Needs (OSSN) at Stellenbosch University.

Deadline for applications: 30th April 2015.

[1] We will be running a separate, but similar, course for education policy makers later in the year. Any interested individuals should please contact us at carinebrunsdon@sun.ac.za.

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The PDF version of this call for applications can be downloaded here.

Links I liked :)

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Carli Davidson Pet Photography

Carli Davidson Pet Photography

Q&A with Carole Bloch

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The aim of the Q&A series is to get an inside look into some of South Africa’s leading education academics, policy-makers and activists. This is the twenty-third interview in the series. Carole Bloch is Director of PRAESA.

(1) Why did you decide to go into education?

As a student, I taught guitar to children, then music appreciation to preschool children. I loved this experience and found that I connected really well with little children and was fascinated by their imaginations and the way they played and thought. After my BA at UCT, it was really luck that I got to do a PGCE in the UK… a long story, but I never looked back. I loved teaching, first teens with literacy learning problems, later preschoolers who played voraciously, with everything they could get their hands on. I experienced first-hand how to facilitate reading and writing as a personally meaningful, emergent process… I’ve been a teacher, and a learner in literacy education ever since.

(2) What does your average week look like?

I am a bit of an octopus these days – I have tentacles waving about in all directions with Nal’ibali. Keeping a national campaign moving along means having an overall vision at the same time as you are involved in details. There is ongoing networking and fund raising, overseeing and informing the literacy and literary information we put out across platforms, training and mentoring programmes and of course troubleshooting technical challenges, like newspaper supplements not arriving where they should on time and supporting colleagues, dealing with payments and staffing issues. Then there is always the daily email deluge! We communicate with great rapidity which means things can happen quickly, but I sometimes feel quite alarmed by the sheer volume of messages that come my way! The evenings and early mornings are often times to catch up with reading and trying clear my head to write.

(3) While I’m sure you’ve read many books and articles in your career, if you had to pick one or two that have been especially influential for you which one or two would they be and why?

It’s hard to choose just one or two: Illich Chukovsky’s 1960 classic From 2 to 5 on the extraordinary linguistic genius of young children and all of Vivian Paley’s books, especially The Boy who would be a Helicopter on the enormous literacy learning and general educative power of imaginative play and stories and Stephen Krashen’s Power of Reading from the 1990s which summarises the research on free voluntary reading (see http://www.sdkrashen.com/).

(4) Who do you think are the current two or three most influential/eminent thinkers in your field and why?

There are so many. Quite a few I don’t agree with, so I won’t mention them! For me, social anthropologist, Barbara Rogoff ‘s work on children participating as cultural apprentices in communities of (reading and writing) practice is really useful when thinking about what we need to understand about how reading culture development takes place. It fit’s amazingly well with the New Literacy Studies – Brian Street and David Barton et al’s conceptions of literacy as social practice – what I like especially about her is that she makes clear that people both join communities of practice and change them by their participation, such a critical insight for South African environments (eg Rogoff 1991, 2005).

Kenneth Goodman, though sadly much vilified I think is one of the greatest thinkers about the reading  process – it is in many ways really anticipating some of the recent insights from brain research – about how the senses work in general such as Chris Frith’s fascinating 2007 book Making up the Mind, on how the brain predicts (Goodman said that “reading is a psycholinguistic guessing game” (see eg Goodman, 1967). His work also helps us to understand that the process underlying reading is the same in any language (research with languages very different from English, like Chinese shows this), and so we don’t have to get bogged down worrying about that in literacy teaching with little children. There’s a really interesting article by him and others too which contests some of the neuroscientifc claims about how children read put forward by phonics proponents like Sally Shaywitz (see http://ericpaulson.wp.txstate.edu/files/2014/05/strauss_goodman_paulson_2009.pdf). I think there is so much differing ‘evidence’ that refers to teaching reading by experts in diverse fields, like linguistics, (who often tend to like to dissect languages and think when you learn to read you have to do this too) and also neuroscientists who do not necessarily understand how little children learn to read (eg Stanislas De Haene 2009). These can influence policy and have negative effects on the lives of young children – I mention some of this later.

5) What do you think is the most under-researched area in South African education?

Understanding the way babies and young children learn to speak, read and write in multilingual settings.

6)  What is the best academic advice you’ve been given?

I think two pieces of advice have stood out for me over the years – the one was from Neville Alexander who I worked closely with for two decades. In the days when very few people were working on ‘alternative’ approaches to young children’s literacy teaching, I sometimes would feel despondent when my ideas and approach seemed to fall on unresponsive ears. Neville used say “Don’t worry about what other people say or think – you know what you are doing, just get on with it”. I realised how significant a) support and b) conviction are to push on and keep going. Another person who helped me with a wise comment which I’ve never forgotten was Elsa Auerbach, an adult literacy specialist from Boston, who’s classic article also influenced me many years ago: http://linksprogram.gmu.edu/tutorcorner/NCLC495Readings/Auerbach-Sociocontemp_familyLit.pdf). When I asked Elsa how she would help teachers and teacher educators to deepen their literacy knowledge and understandings, given the huge disparities in education we were trying to address, she said to me very simply, that we all need the same kind of opportunities– in a nutshell to read, reflect and experience many demonstrations of good practice. This simple insight has guided me for many years as I’ve mentored others.

7) You are currently the director of PRAESA and involved with Nali’bali, for those that are unfamiliar with these organizations can you give an overview of their aims and approach and maybe some of your/their plans for the future?

PRAESA from its beginnings in 1992 was an NGO based at UCT involved in multilingual education, research, training and materials development – essentially to help transform children’s educational opportunities using the foundation of mother tongue based bilingualism. Our research and all development work has been embedded in the view that a home language or languages should be the bedrock for learning, used to deepen thinking and conceptual understanding (see www.praesa.org.za). Other languages can be learned and added to a child’s linguistic repertoire, rather than being replacements. The longer the home language is used, the more support the child is actually getting. As many of us are aware, this mother tongue based education has not been implemented, except for in experimental ways, I believe to the extreme detriment of the educational opportunities for the majority of children.

In 2012, we initiated the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment-campaign. This grew out of the previous twenty years of literacy research and practical work in multilingual settings which used stories and home languages for language and literacy teaching and learning. Because the story form is universal to all of us and integral to the way our minds work, the obvious route to literacy learning is to inspire a love of reading among all children. So Nal’ibali aims to nurture storytelling and reading for personal satisfaction, particularly in children, but also in the adults who are their role models and nurturers. Nal’ibali involves an ongoing collaborative effort with many partners to help put into place the conditions that support the initial and ongoing literacy development of all children irrespective of class, linguistic or cultural backgrounds. We’re doing this through mentoring, workshops and collaboration with communities, supporting reading clubs, literacy organisations and trying to elicit the support of volunteers of all ages, integrated with a media campaign and the development of multilingual literacy resources and stories. Our vision is a literate society that uses writing and reading in meaningful ways and where children and adults enjoy stories and books (and of course non-fiction too) together as part of daily life. The mission – and clearly we all need to be involved for this to happen – individuals, NGO’s, universities, government and business – is to create the conditions across South Africa that inspires and sustains reading-for-enjoyment practices (www.nalibali.org and facebook nalibaliSA).

8) You have been heavily involved in research on early literacy in African settings, can you give us an overview of what we know about early literacy in African settings and also what we don’t know?

I can only talk about my views as to what I think we know and don’t know or somehow don’t acknowledge or value …

In a nutshell, we know that most children, irrespective of class, socio-cultural and linguistic background are capable of becoming competent, avid and creative readers and writers but that huge numbers of mainly African language speaking children don’t – and that the conditions that need to be in place for successful learning to take place are mainly in place for children of the elite only. We know that a combination of factors is involved and that these cut across home, community and school. But we don’t seem to widely appreciate the incredible importance of the ‘invisible’ literacy learning that takes place in the daily, informal community and home language ‘goings on’ of literate homes, and what it means when such learning, for whatever reasons, cannot take place.

We know that teachers ‘bring with them’ like children do, their literacy theories and practices into the classroom, and that a real stumbling block in the early years is how we still tend to train teachers to view their task as teaching skills as a priority over demonstrating and making possible the use of written language for personally meaningful reasons (This contributes to the learn to read/read to learn myth). We should know that this blocks many children off from highly effective learning strategies that could reveal them as exuberant emergent readers and writers that we expect from most young English speaking children. We don’t widely acknowledge, and maybe we don’t know, that the consequence is a cyclical one of adults tending to underestimate poor children’s capabilities in formal education situations, believing the children are struggling with ‘the basics’, when actually the struggle is that the basics of written language are being denied them!

We know that the push down from higher education is exacerbating this through the justification of curricula that package skills and knowledge in ways that override considerations about how to motivate young children ‘s enormous learning capacity. Global forces push down too – a current example is an assessment packages like EGRA, which grew from the USA ‘s DIBELS, that has caused so much heartache and stress for so many families (see The Truth About Dibels, Goodman 2006).

We know that low status and use of African languages for print functions (including the dearth of fiction and non fiction) means fewer adults are leisure readers. But we don’t widely value or address the fact that it seems extremely difficult to teach others to read when you don’t have your own repository of knowledge and stories arising from the texts you’ve read over time, to draw from – with the overwhelming effect of poor reading habits being that you tend not to have what it takes to reap the benefits from and pass on a passion for knowledge and story to others.

Given what we do know, we don’t know why government (with support from business) seems unable to invest with unflinching determination in the translation of desirable world texts, including ones from Africa, to support African publishers to produce a steady flow of the books we need and order these to stock community and school libraries …. to inspire reading and creative writing among adults and children in African languages and English and also to use in the training and mentoring of adults to grow to know and manage these collections. We also don’t know why there is an insistence on making teaching so very hard for teachers and learning difficult for the majority of children living in South Africa after grade 3 by forcing teaching in a language often not known well enough to use with dignity and depth.

9)   If you ended up sitting next to the Minister of Education on a plane and she asked you what you think are the three biggest challenges facing South African education today, what would you say?

The first is the fact that it is a tragedy that we haven’t implemented our Language in Education Policy of 1997, but that it is not too late and that this needs leadership from government and lots of information – in fact a campaign – to allow parents the opportunity to appreciate the issues involved in educating their children from a language perspective – how they would come to realise that they do not need to choose between English or African languages but that both are possible, and desirable.

The second is related and I’ve raised already – that government needs to act on the fact that until publishing in African languages is supported in a serious way, so that these languages are used in print for high status functions, including literature – and more of our adult population starts reading regularly for personal satisfaction and for pleasure, many children won’t become readers and writers in the fullest sense.

The third, if she was still listening, would be to discuss how to use literature to find practical ways to create a different ethos among us – one that promotes and encourages empathy and respect for each adult and child living in South Africa irrespective of background. We’d gather people together to generate a curriculum of shared stories for children of all ages, from South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world, which reflect the highs and lows of humanity – to support the growth of a new generation of people who reject stereotyping and prejudice, and value what we share in common, as well as our differences.

10)   If you weren’t in education what do you think you would be doing?

I’d be a professional gardener as I love growing things, or I’d be a cellist.

11) What is the most rewarding and most frustrating thing about your job?

The most rewarding thing is seeing partnerships grow that are allowing so many people across South Africa to get involved in quite relaxed ways to enjoy the substance of reading: Seeing how my colleagues inspire others is humbling. Watching how interest in books grow in people of all ages when they are motivated. Seeing sceptical and weary-looking adults put on their playful hats to communicate with children and share stories in animated ways  – this is stunning for me.

Frustrations are around how hard it can be to convince others that sometimes the most simple seeming solutions are the most profound sometimes… and of course the time it takes to get things done, mainly because we just don’t have the capacity, either human or financial – and knowing how much more SA industry and government could do to help us change the desperate situation we face in literacy education.

12)   Technology in education going forward – are you a fan or a sceptic and why?

Total fan and total sceptic! I’m a fan of making the most use of technology. In Nal’ibali, for example, we offer a growing repository of free multilingual stories and guidance etc. on web, mobi and cellphone for adults to use with children of all ages. I think that the freedom it allows to create multilingually is extraordinarily powerful and I love the potential and sometimes actual freedom to share material without the rigid constraints of traditional publishing. But I’m a sceptic about the wisdom of proclaiming paperless learning. I don’t believe we should attempt to create an either-or situation. Particularly, but by no means only – for babies and young children we still want print on paper and books. I think we need to support and nurture our publishing industry more now than ever before.

13) If you were given a R15million research grant (and complete discretion on how to spend it) what would you use it for?

I’d facilitate a major qualitative research process on various aspects of Nal’ibali: I’d like to track groups of children living in different settings from home to reading club to school over a period; document the indicators of the effects of reading for enjoyment on motivation, engagement and achievement, literacy and school learning, family dynamics etc. I know that our only glimmer of hope to persuade policy makers, linguists and many involved in education that what we are doing is essential is ‘scientific’ evidence!

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Some of the others on my “to-interview” list include Veronica McKay, Thabo Mabogoane, Maurita-Glynn Weissenberg, Shelley O’Carroll, Yael Shalem, Linda Richter and Volker Wedekind. If you have any other suggestions drop me a mail and I’ll see what I can do.

Previous participants (with links to their Q&A’s) include, Johan MullerUrsula HoadleyStephen TaylorServaas van der BergElizabeth HenningBrahm FleischMary Metcalfe, Martin Gustafsson, Eric AtmoreDoron IsaacsJoy OliverHamsa VenkatLinda Biersteker, Jonathan ClarkeMichael MyburghPercy Moleke , Wayne Hugo, Lilli PretoriusPaula EnsorCarol MacdonaldJill Adler and Andrew Einhorn.

Developing an “access-to-learning” statistic: Combining access & quality in Sub-Saharan Africa

kenya

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference of 2015. Although it was -17′ C when I landed the weather has actually been lovely and DC seems like a lovely city to live in.

On Monday I presented two papers that I co-authored with Stephen Taylor on creating a composite measure of access and quality for 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation was very well received by the other delegates and a number of them have since commented on the importance of this research given where we are at cusp of the next set of post-MDG goal-setting, the “Sustainable Development Goals.” Personally I believe this is the most important research I’ve done to date, and it’s also the research of which I am most proud.

For those who would like to read the two papers I have included links below, and the PowerPoint slides can be found here. Both Stephen and I are trying to disseminate this research so if you know of anyone who might be interested in it please do forward it along to them. As always, comments and questions welcome.

Spaull, N., & Taylor, S., (2015). Access to what? Creating a composite measure of educational quantity and educational quality for 11 African countries. Comparative Education Review. Vol. 58, No. 1. (WP here).

ABSTRACT

The aim of the current study is to create a composite statistic of educational quantity and educational quality by combining household data (Demographic and Health Survey) on grade completion and survey data (Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality) on cognitive outcomes for 11 African countries: Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Doing so overcomes the limitations of earlier studies that fo- cused solely on either quantity or quality. We term the new statistic “access to literacy” and “access to numeracy” and report it by gender and wealth. This new measure combines both quantity and quality and consequently places educational outcomes at the center of the discourse.

Taylor, S., & Spaull, N., (2015) Measuring access to learning over a period of increased access to schooling: The case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000. International Journal of Educational Development . Vol. 41 (March) pp47-59 (WP here).

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the extent to which increased access to primary schooling in ten Southern and East African countries between 2000 and 2007 was also accompanied by increased access to actual learning. We develop a measure of access to learning that combines data on education access and learning achievement to measure the proportions of children in the population (including those enrolled and not enrolled) that reach particular thresholds of literacy and numeracy. In all countries there was greater access to learning in 2007 than in 2000. These improvements in access to learning especially benefited girls and children from poor households.