Tag Archives: reading

The importance of literacy, reading, and writing in modern society

literacy skills 1

In order to succeed in modern life, your career, and improve your quality of life, it is vital to have good literacy skills. It is more than just being able to read, but rather how you use written information to function in modern society. We can all agree that being able to read and write effect our daily live in so many ways. It has an impact on the way we think, career progress and earning potential, and helps us to fit into our environment and social circles.

Literacy is helps us to communicate through reading and there is even a literacy day set aside by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) to help promote the importance of literacy.

Being able to communicate, read and write is a priority and the ultimate investment we can make for our future. The goal of Unesco and literacy day is to one promote literacy such that one day every child will have the ability to read and in turn be able to use these skills to gain independence and autonomy. Individual with good literacy skills are far more likely to find good paying job, earn a decent salary, and have access to training opportunities. On the other hand, individual with weak literacy skills are more likely to find themselves unemployed, and if they are employed, it probable that the jobs are low paying, offer poor hours or working conditions.

Research done by Unesco Institute for Statistics show that there are roughly 774 million adults who cannot read or write of which almost 60% are women. Unesco Institute for Statistics estimates that some 123-million youths are illiterate and that only 87% of females have basic literacy skills compared to 92% of males.  Statistics for South Africa estimate that roughly 8.5 million adults are illiterate according to Unesco. Local research done in South Africa estimate that about 4 million people have never attended school. Even with these bleak statistics, the number of students graduating from universities is growing year by year.

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There is no doubt that literacy is a fundamental tool to achieve success and further career opportunities and, on a whole, improve the quality of life individual and communities they live in. Having the skills to communicate, read, and write is vital for social and economic development. It allows individuals to expand their knowledge and understanding of society.

Literacy is not simply the ability to read and write, but rather the ability to use these skills and communicate effectively. In modern society and our globalized world, literacy is far more diverse that simply reading a book and understanding what we have read. Digital literacy, for example, is the ability to understand and use information across multiple formats from computers to the internet and cellphones.

Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms. Cultural literacy is the ability to understand and appreciate other cultures. It requires a person to examine and understand the different beliefs, values and traditions of others.
Having a population with high literacy skills also helps a country as a whole and improved the ability of a nation to tackle different social challenges it faces. Countries with strong literacy skills generally have a better standard of health and outcomes for individuals. Highly literate populations and communities are in a far better position to deal governance in a highly diverse society.

Literacy is a fundamental human right and the basis for any individual’s ability to learn. It is essential for social and human development and provides individual the skills and empowers them to transform their lives, in turn, an improved standard of health and ability to earn a higher income.


SA pupils win World Literary Quiz

Pupils and teachers from Manor Gardens Primary School in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, are rejoicing following the school’s team victory at the 2011 International Kids Literary Quiz in New Zealand.

Four grade seven pupils Alexandra Breckenridge, Matthew Robbins, Emily Spencer and Sarah Herrington represented South Africa in the event, competiting against teams from the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand. The annual event assesses the literary knowledge of young boys and girls aging between 10 and 13.

The quiz was founded in 1991 by Wayne Mills, a New Zealand quizmaster and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, with the goal to inspire young children to read significantly more and look at the activity as a form of sport. Mills longed-for good readers to end up being recognized for their achievements and also celebrated by their schools, in the same way sporty youngsters are.

During the last 20 years the event has developed into a popular annual occasion among youngsters in the various participating countries, with hundreds of teams competing for an opportunity to represent their country in the final. Some 400 teams from the UK alone took part in the regional finals.


Kids' Lit Quiz Founder Wayne Mills


Manor Gardens Primary School beat 150 teams coming from schools all around South Africa in their regional finals held in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. At the regional finals, teams have to get through 10 rounds of 10 questions. The questions cover a wide range of subjects in children’s books, this includes weapons in literature and witches.

Bookstore Exclusive Books sponsored the local competition in South Africa, giving away cash prizes and book vouchers to every winning team.

The school victory has made Manor Gardens principal Carol Lottering, teachers, pupils and parents very proud of the winning team. “They have demostrated that there is some good with our education. You frequently hear unfavorable aspects of education in this country, but here is a public school that has competed internationally and won.”


‘Emphatic win’

Competition organisers Kids Lit Quiz congratulated the young South Africans for their fantastic win. “The South African team from Manor Gardens in Durban was comprehensively strong in all the categories and triumphed in this year’s final emphatically,” it said in a statement.

The Durban school team triumphed in the contest with 51 points – 16 points clear of runners up Summit Heights Public School from Canada, foolowed in third place with 35; and last year’s winners Cockermouth School from the UK, with 27 points.


Matthew Robbins, Emily Spencer, Sarah Herrington, Alexandra Breckenridge


Lottering stated that the team which gave a hand to prepare the pupils for the competition along with the school’s media centre teacher, Isobel Sobey, played a major role in their success.

“It was a combined effort and hard work by the teachers and parents, who worked alongside one another to support the children. The teachers emphasise the value of reading in the same manner the parents do at home.”

The school’s Facebook page continues to be flooded with congratulatory messages ever since news broke of their victory. South Africa’s Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was one of the many who posted celebratory messages on the page. “You make the country proud,” she wrote.

The school has also written a message on Facebook on behalf of the team saying thanks to all their followers for the supporting words.


“We are genuinely overwhelmed with the support and the fantastic messages. Alex, Emily, Matthew and Sarah are completely over joyed with the response and give thanks to their school friends, teachers and everyone who has followed the team on this memorable journey.”

Source: mediaclubsouthafrica.com


Celebrities rally behind learning and teaching campaign

Celebrities around the country have declared their support for this year’s Mandela Day and are rallying behind the call for quality learning and teaching by dedicating their time reading to children.

In partnership with the Department of Basic Education and Training and civil society organisations, the Nelson Mandela Institute (NMI) has urged South Africans to spend the day reading to young people and to donate books to schools.

Speaking at a media briefing at the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Thursday, NMI Executive Director Kimberley Porteus said that this year’s Mandela Day is dedicated to the vision of the MDG 2, calling for quality education for all children.

“The Mandela Day will serve the spirit of South Africa to invest in education the way we never have before. Children’s success in education is through the number of words they are exposed to in the first eight years,” Porteus said.

Poet, singer and author, Nomsa Mazwai, said that education is the weapon to use to empower people.

“We must have justice in education in our lifetime and it needs to happen now,” Mazwai said.

Mazwai and her sister Thandiswa Mazwai, who is a musician, will be writing a book and will visit various schools during the month reading to learners.

Archbishop Thabo Mokgoba, head of the Anglican Church, Southern Africa, said those who read were more likely to become leaders.

“Let’s create a generation of leaders. Whilst I’ll be preaching in my church on Mandela Day, I’ll also be reading to young ones,” said Archbishop Makgoba.

Business woman and mentor, Basetsane Kumalo, said after 1994, the country is now waging an economic struggle and education is the only tool to use to win it.

“Through education, we can fight poverty, prejudice and discrimination and win. Use education to better peoples lives and create a cadre of leaders, through Mandela Day, we can able to create change.” said Kumalo.

She also urged the business sector to take part by responding to the call.

Basic Education Chief Director for Social Inclusion and Mobilisation in Education, Themba Kojana said that whilst government carries a responsibility to ensure quality learning and teaching, it can not work alone.

“It’s the power of reading that ensures our children have better education,” Kojana said.

Six ideas that have been identified for Mandela Day include gathering books for communities, organising plays for children, telling stories, reading together, make toys like blocks and puzzles for a local crSche and refurbishing or painting a local crSche or foundation phase classroom using cheery colours.

Source: BuaNews


University students can’t read

The recent publication in South Africa of the results of pilots of the new National Benchmark Tests – tests which measure the performance of school-leavers in three key areas and aim to predict whether or not they will have difficulty as they enter university – has brought a flurry of outrage from academics and politicians. They are reported as claiming that standards are dropping and students can’t read or write. While this sort of knee-jerk reaction to tests conducted at a national level is largely predictable, especially in a country where the school system still experiences huge problems, it is also questionable given research produced in the field of academic development – an area which has long concerned itself with the issue of student ‘under-preparedness’ at universities.

Entrance to South Africa’s 23 public universities has long been problematic because of the history of apartheid. Before the shift to democracy, the education system was segregated along racial lines. This not only meant that black students were allowed entrance only to certain universities but also that the demographic profile of the student population was far from representative of the general population.

Following the 1994 democratic election, the challenge has been to provide access to higher education to the black majority. Since this has had to be done in the context of a school system which continues to serve different sectors of the population in unequal ways, universities have not only needed to identify those students with the potential to succeed but also to identify those who can succeed if some additional support is provided.

Current thinking in academic development argues that it’s not just the ‘plain old reading and writing’ much lauded by ‘back to basics’ advocates that universities require but rather much more specific kinds of literacy. Universities require students to make inferences and draw conclusions from what they read, and to use reading of other texts and their knowledge of the world to question what they are reading. This kind of reading is very different to the sort of reading involved in, say, following a set of instructions, finding a plumber in the Yellow Pages or doing the types of comprehension passage taught at school level.

It’s not simply that reading at university is more difficult than other sorts of reading but rather that it involves the reader taking up a different position in relationship to what she reads – a position which is ultimately derived from values and attitudes related to what can count as knowledge and how that knowledge can be known. This makes reading in university disciplines and fields qualitatively different to many other kinds of reading. So, there’s reading and there’s reading.

What the National Benchmark Tests show is not that the South African school-leavers who took the tests can’t read and write per se, but rather that many can’t read and write in ways specific to the university.

Only about 16% of South African 18 to 24 year olds are at universities and the pilots tested only a small sample of this 16%. The new tests tell us nothing about how the other 84% of young people can read and write yet strident pronouncements about ‘falling standards’ and the need to go ‘back to basics’ are made on the basis of them.

As for teaching the students who can’t yet read and write in the specific ways required by universities, that’s a responsibility which has long fallen to those of us working in academic development programmes. We have come to realise, this isn’t as easy or as obvious a task as it might appear.

I have a PhD in applied linguistics and years of experience working in language development yet I can’t teach students to understand a natural scientific article or write a lab report as I can’t do either of those things myself.

What I can do is teach my own students to read and write in ways my own field of study expects. As I teach my students to make knowledge in the field, so I teach them to read and write in ways demanded by the field. This means that I teach my students how to read and write right up to doctoral level, as demands at postgraduate level are very different to those of an undergraduate assignment.

What I can also do is what the research of Cecilia Jacobs of Cape Peninsula University of Technology has shown that people like me can do – I can help academics in other disciplines understand the ways of reading and writing which underpin knowledge production in their own fields of study in order to open them up to their own students.

Sadly, the lure of an easy solution is hard to resist. So pundits make claims about falling standards, call for outcomes-based education to be abandoned in favour of a return to more traditional approaches, and demand that people like me ‘fix’ the students. Yet, contemporary theories of language question the assumptions about language on which these traditional models are based.

In South African higher education, moreover, a wealth of research shows that attempts to develop language and literacy in special classes outside mainstream learning have not had the effect anticipated. Despite this research, commonsense and unexamined experience rule – even though, as many thinkers have argued, commonsense and unexamined experience can be very dangerous things.

Rather than knee-jerk reactions to the results of the National Benchmark Tests, we owe it to the learners of South Africa to think much more carefully and ask more probing questions before we pronounce on what should be done in the name of language and literacy development. We also need to explore the theoretical and ideological basis of the pronouncements we make.

If we don’t do this, the young people who will learn to read and write in powerful ways are those who pick up those ways of reading and writing outside the formal learning environment – young people who are already privileged because of the educational and social background of their parents and what that exposes them to – while commonsense is left to disserve the masses.

Source: universityworldnews.com, britannica.com, international.uiowa.edu, en.wikipedia.org,