Monthly Archives: April 2015

Open Stellenbosch: “Tackling language and exclusion at Stellenbosch University”

(The article below was written by the Open Stellenbosch collective and published in the City Press this Sunday the 26th of April 2015, and is also available on Daily Maverick). I’ve written about this topic myself and feel quite strongly that not enough is being done to diversify the staff and student bodies at Stellenbosch and particularly in changing the culture at the University, hence posting the article here.

“Tackling language and exclusion at Stellenbosch University”

– Open Stellenbosch


“Many in South Africa are aware of the RhodesMustFall movement at UCT, and the problems of institutional racism it has highlighted. These problems are deeply entrenched at Stellenbosch University, where Open Stellenbosch was created to challenge the hegemony of white Afrikaans culture and the exclusion of black students and staff. Open Stellenbosch is a movement of predominantly black students and staff at the University who refuse to accept the current pace of transformation.

In 2013, only 3.5% of all professors at the University were black, while 86% were white. In fact, there are more professors named ‘Johan’ than there are black professors at our institution. Is this really what transformation looks like 20 years after Apartheid?

The fact that we as black students on campus have to take matters into our own hands to change the oppressive institutional culture at Stellenbosch is an indictment of the University management. We do not believe that those in the SRC, the Senate or the Council understand the weight of normalised oppression that we experience at this overtly white University.

Although our institution claims that “continuous transformation is part of the core being of the University”, this could not be further from our everyday reality at Stellenbosch. We are tired of empty promises and goals that are perpetually postponed. We have been having these conversations for over a decade now, and it is clear that the management at Stellenbosch has been operating in bad faith. Many promises, little action. There was the “Strategic Framework” of 1999, the “Vision 2012” document of 2000, the “Transformation Strategy” of 2008, the “Overarching Strategic Plan” of 2009, the “Quality Development Plan”, the “Employment Equity Plan”, the “Diversity Framework”, and so it goes on. These have all failed because of a wholesale lack of political will to implement them – both then and now.

Although there are many things that need to change at Stellenbosch University, as a matter of urgency we are calling for the following:

  1. No student should be forced to learn or communicate in Afrikaans and all classes must be available in English.
  2. The institutional culture at Stellenbosch University needs to change radically and rapidly to reflect diverse cultures and not only White Afrikaans culture.
  3. The University publically needs to acknowledge and actively remember the central role that Stellenbosch and its faculty played in the conceptualisation, implementation and maintenance of Apartheid.

Every day students and staff who do not understand Afrikaans are excluded from learning and participating at Stellenbosch University. As black students we are frequently asked, “Why do you come here if you can’t speak Afrikaans?” This question highlights the pervasive and problematic sense of ownership that some have over this University. Stellenbosch – like all universities – is a public institution. This is not an Afrikaans university. It is a South African university which offers instruction in Afrikaans and (to a lesser extent) English.

We have personally experienced countless instances of this institutional racism, including being forced to ask our Afrikaans-speaking peers to interpret what “Huiskomitee” members are saying in residence meetings. When we are allocated rooms, we are intentionally paired with other black students. Initiation at our residences involves explicit racism, homophobia and intimidation. It’s telling that we actively discourage our black school-leaving friends from considering Stellenbosch as a place to study. This is in an attempt to spare them the pain and humiliation of being silently subjugated by a passively hostile culture of white Afrikanerdom.

These exclusionary practices are not limited to students only. Some academics are forced to sit through meetings conducted in Afrikaans where they do not understand anything and yet are required to be there. These norms help explain why black faculty find Stellenbosch to be a hostile environment that privileges white Afrikaans culture. This privileging is most obviously reflected in the racial composition of teaching staff at the University (see graphic).

Is this what transformation looks like (3) (April 2015)

The University and its management will no doubt issue new statements, new speeches, new plans. This week we will read the latest reincarnation of a “Transformation Plan” with the Rector promising that this time it will be different. We are not interested in superficial gestures of goodwill. We want to see an end to Afrikaans-only classes. We want our University to represent our cultures as well. We want to be taught by more black faculty. After years of empty promises and hollow commitments, we no longer trust what you say. Speak to us with your actions because your words will fall on deaf ears, as ours have for over a decade.”


Open Stellenbosch can be found on Twitter @OpenStellies and on Facebook at “Open Stellenbosch

Q&A with Maurita Glynn-Weissenberg

MauritaThe 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-fifth interview in the series. Maurita Glynn-Weissenberg is the founder and director of the Shine Centre.

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

I started off teaching my toys as a little girl as I only ever wanted to teach. I taught in the UK and SA in both private and state schooling of which the latter were in pretty edgy neighbourhoods in both countries. Struggling to read seemed to be something that followed children irrespective of where they grew up which led me to study remedial education at UCT in 1995.

In 1998 I started volunteering two mornings a week at Observatory Junior School. A school where most of the children travel long distances at their families expense to learn in English. However, more than half the class were not nearly reading at Grade 1 (?) level by Grade 4. What struck me was the commitment from families to educate their children and how keen the children were to do well. After two years of tutoring Grade 5 and 6 children I started looking for an early intervention which took me to visit a project in Tower Hamlets, East of London, UK. Here I saw corporates giving up a lunch hour once a week to read with children and the idea of Shine was born.

2)   What does your average week look like.

In the last year I have finally moved into a position of moving out of the day-to-day operations of the Shine Programmes and concentrating on developing the right systems and policies to reach our long term vision.

Last week I spent two mornings reviewing policies and researching a few more.

I had a meeting with one of our funders to look at making some changes to our peer-learning project, met with the Chairman of another literacy organisation to discuss collaboration and spent a morning reviewing our Social Franchise.

I also attended the Year Beyond Dinner at Chrysalis Academy where we welcomed 33 amazing youth who will be Shine Learning Partners in 8 schools who benefit from the Western Cape’s MOD programme. I ended the week attending a committee meeting of RASA (Reading Association of South Africa) as we are hosting this year’s RASA Conference along with the Pan African Reading Association.

However, after having quite a serious accident in 2009 I strongly believe in balance and I do manage to pick up my children from school and walk the dog along the green belt most days.

 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?

Systemic change begins with people changing the way they think and do things. So that is what I am most interested in. Especially as Shine’s workforce is currently 700 volunteers, 23 Centre Managers, 23 school heads, 33 youth and a head office team of 13. Our focus group is thousands of young children and their caregivers.

The book and teachings that made the greatest impact on our work and my thinking is Nancy Cline’s Time to Think. Nancy Kline has identified 10 behaviours that form a system called a Thinking Environment, a model of human interaction that dramatically improves the way people think, and thus the way they work and live. We work this model into our programme and all our meetings. Meetings are useless if people don’t listen to one another, interrupt one another, talk too much or say nothing at all.

The second book that I learnt so much from was Playful Approaches to Serious Problems by David Epston, Jennifer Freeman and Dean Lobovits.

Our volunteers are offered training by Linda van Duuren who’s incredible work is based on David Epston’s Narrative Therapy. Our children come with huge challenges in their lives and it is important that as adults we are able to listen to and respect their unique language, problem-solving and resources. David Epston’s work gives us a framework to work from.

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

I have recently been lucky enough to be part of some incredible thinking.

In 2011 Shine was a finalist for the Wise Awards and ever since I have been sponsored to attend the Word Innovation Summit for Education. What I love about this Summit is that they want to hear from everybody in the field and actively sponsor thousands of people from all areas of education. There is as great a respect for the voice of a field worker in a refugee camp school as the chairman of Unesco for instance. There is so much to learn from the many people around me but I do have some favourites:

Firstly, Charles Leadbeater, who is a leading authority on innovation and creativity and co-wrote Learning from the Extremes. Published early in 2010 by Cisco, Learning from the Extremes examines how social entrepreneurs around the world are devising new approaches to learning in extreme social circumstances – favelas, slums, informal settlements – when there are few teachers, schools, text books. The radically innovative approaches they develop challenge conventional wisdom about schooling and provide new insights into how the developed world should reform its education systems.

My second favourite is Professor Anil Gupta who created the Honey Bee Network to ensure recognition, respect and reward for grassroots inventors and innovators at local, national and global levels. Searching the country with colleagues, he has found countless inventions developed out of necessity, which he has documented and often shared with the global community.

My wish for this year is for a larger group of South African educationalists and policy makers to attend the Wise Summit.

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

 Can’t say for sure but possibly Early Childhood Development.

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

I think I have learnt the most from Kathryn Torres, our current chairperson, who has partnered me on the Shine journey since 2006. I always tended to allow my visions to paralyse me whereas she is someone that thrives on getting the job done. How lucky is this relationship?

Whenever I have an idea she gets me to haul out my diary and put the next step into action. So usually by the end of that conversation I have identified who I need to speak to, have made contact and the appointment is in the diary. That is simply how new centres were established in 2009, how our Social Franchise model came about and hopefully how our new project involving peer learning will evolve .

Kathryn’s advice: ‘One step at a time.’ It’s as simple as that!

7) You founded the Shine Centre in 2000 – can you give us some information about what Shine is all about, its aims and approach and maybe some of your plans for the future?

The Shine Model

We currently have 8 Shine Centres supporting 10 primary schools and 13 Shine Chapters (our Social Franchise Model) which supports 13 primary schools in 3 provinces.

The Shine Programme runs from a centre in schools each morning. It is managed by a Shine Centre Manager and between 40 to 80 trained volunteers run the programme (depending on the need). Grade Two or Three children are partnered with a volunteer for a year and together they work through a one hour structured literacy programme, twice a week.

Children who attend the Shine Centre have been assessed by Shine to be ‘at risk’ in terms of their literacy scores. This is determined at the end of their Grade One year when Shine assesses all Grade One children. Their progress is monitored twice a year which is shared with the class teacher together with any anecdotal information that the volunteer picks up.

The Literacy Programme consists of: Paired Reading, Shared Reading, Have a Go Writing and Word Games, using 36 five-minute games specially designed by Shine. Our programme complements the school curriculum and provides individual support to children who are struggling. All volunteers receive initial training on the methodology surrounding each of these areas, as well as continuous in-depth training on key and additional skills and learning areas.

On top of that we offer eye testing and glasses to the schools, parent workshops and soon we hope to introduce a peer-learning programme to the teachers.

Importantly, everything is tied together using our Shine Ethos which is based on the principles by Nancy Cline’s Time to Think, and we believe that this is what makes our programme both unique and successful. Children are encouraged to work at their own pace in a fun, warm and nurturing environment, where appreciation and praise are used to positively reinforce progress and good behaviour.

8) I’m sure you are in a different space now than you were in 2000 when you founded Shine, what advice would you give to yourself 14 years ago?

There are things I wish I had done differently but I do believe that it’s part of what I needed to experience and learn. In 1999 I lacked confidence to even think of knocking on doors to get funding. Thus I ended up designing a project that used volunteers and the infrastructure of the school that hosted it. The first Shine Centre established in 2000 ran on the smell of an oil rag but it was quickly noted that the literacy at this school rose steadily from 50% in 2002 to 82.7%% in 2008 (Western Cape Grade 3 testing).

But if I had to choose anything it is to have the courage of my convictions. I used to second-guess myself too much. And I wish I had been a little wilder in my youth. By 21 I was already married, had built a house and had two dogs that were serious hand-breaks! (I may have made up for that in my forties.)

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

Walking into a Shine Chapter that has had our basic support and training and seeing the powerful interaction between the Learning Partners taking place. We won the Truth and Reconciliation Prize in 2008 based on the relationships that develop during a Shine session. It is nation building – without a doubt.

The most frustrating is seeing the huge potential of the children in our schools and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that confront them in our schooling system.

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. The difficulty of finding and tracking every informal and formal crèche and nursery school in the country let alone the cost and challenges of training, resourcing and monitoring each facility.
  2. The challenge of training in a sector where caregivers have varying background in education.
  3. The fact that parents can often only pay a minimal cost which results in children spending their day in impoverished and over-crowded facilities with little or no individual care.

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

I’d be in HR or maybe a feng-shui consultant. My team tease me because I love nothing more than rearranging the furniture in our offices and centres. I love making a space conducive to allowing people to really feel good.

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

I love the idea of children being given the power to create their own learning using technology and Dr. Sugata Mitra who started the first Hole-in-the-Wall in a slum in New Delhi proposed the following hypothesis when he delivered an inspiring presentation at WISE in 2011: The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.

However, being the mother of two boys who attend Waldorf Schools, I still believe that the most cost–effective and meaningful medium of teaching can be and should be dynamic, warm, positive human beings who are passionate about their subject and have mastery of it.

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

As we know children across the board in South Africa have poor literacy skills, which impacts on their opportunity or ability to learn and has devastating consequences for their chance to succeed in life. I would like to research innovative ways to improve literacy in South African schools through a national peer reading programme in which children read together for set times during the day. Paired and shared peer reading programmes have been introduced in both the UK and Canada and there is sufficient positive research emerging from these countries to support introducing a Book Buddies programme in schools throughout South Africa. I would love to be able to visit and observe the most successful peer reading programmes in the world and then research ways in which these could be modified to fit into the South African context. I would like to implement a Book Buddy programme nationally and complete a longitudinal study on the effects of the programme on the children. It is my dream to see children pairing up with their Book Buddy spontaneously and reading for pleasure at any time of the school day. If children learn to read for pleasure at school this translates into a life-long love of reading, which, in turn, impacts positively on generations to come as the children become parents and read to their children.


*Full disclosure: my mom (Sally Spaull) is a Shine volunteer in Durban and regularly tells me how wonderful the program is 🙂

Some of the others on my “to-interview” list include Veronica McKay, Thabo Mabogoane, 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 EinhornCarole Bloch and Shelley O’Carroll.

[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… ]


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 ( 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.


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.


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.


[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 [], 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 [] and this year we’ve added the YouTube channel to further extended our digital footprint.


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…


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?


 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.


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)


An Introduction to Quantitative Data Analysis for Researchers in Education

Stellenbosch University  |  8 – 12 June 2015


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.


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.


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.


To apply to attend the course, please send an email to 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.


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


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

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Carli Davidson Pet Photography

Carli Davidson Pet Photography