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Zenex Foundation Literacy Symposium



Literacy and language are the foundation of all learning. It is for this reason that the Zenex Foundation has a history of committed and evidence-based support for literacy. Over the 23 years of its existence as an independent donor, Zenex has supported literacy either by way of interventions in schools; materials development and/or research. The impact of this support has been evaluated through extensive Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and important lessons have been learnt about supporting literacy improvement at school level.

Getting literacy right remains of critical importance, given the findings of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) that 78% of South African learners cannot read for meaning by the end of Grade 4. Given this stark reality, a platform for literacy stakeholders to connect and share is always a welcome initiative in this field.

It is against this backdrop that the Foundation convened a whole-day Literacy Symposium on 24 October 2018 in Johannesburg. The aim of the Symposium was twofold, namely: to present the evaluation findings on the flagship Zenex Literacy Pilot Project; and to use the Symposium as a springboard for collaboration between literacy stakeholders across the country. Over 130 guests comprising academics, government officials, NGOs, donors, and M&E practitioners were in attendance. The event was an opportunity to share lessons and experiences from various literacy programmes and research; candidly reflect on what works and does not work, and identifying synergies and gaps that can be collectively maximised and addressed.

Given the vastness of the literacy space, the Symposium was broken down into five segments which purposefully coalesce, each covering a specific area of interest in literacy, to deepen engagement around each topic. Each segment was headlined by presentations from across the literacy stakeholder groups to stimulate discussion.

A plenary session exploring the complexities of evaluating literacy interventions set the scene for the day. This discussion was foregrounded by lessons learnt from the Evaluation of Zenex Literacy Project (ZenLit). A discussion of the evaluation of literacy interventions is essential given the critical role of evaluation in informing what kinds of interventions might work for improving literacy outcomes in complex educational contexts. The presentations and engagements flowing therefrom examined pertinent issues around evaluation design, methodologies, assessment, ethical considerations and fieldwork.

The plenary was followed by three parallel commissions on Literacy Teacher Training, Literacy Coaching and Literacy Research, where examples of practice and studies were shared and discussed.

The day was concluded with a plenary that gave guests a glimpse into the National Education Collaboration Trust’s planned National Reading Coalition (NRC). The NRC, scheduled to be launched later in the year, seeks to “mobilise support for and mobilise coordination of reading initiatives” across the country. The Coalition would see the alignment of various reading initiatives to maximise their impact, reach and effectiveness. This was an apt closing for a Symposium premised on the need for collaboration to solve the persistent literacy challenge facing the country.

The challenge, after such a comprehensive and collaborative effort to unpack issues in literacy, is how we can take our collective efforts forward and develop meaningful partnerships and forums for sharing that can turn around the literacy conundrum.

The full report of Symposium proceedings is available on this link.


Programme with presentations

Opening Plenary

  1. The Zenex Foundation literacy journey by Gail Campbell, Zenex Foundation
  2. Findings and recommendations of the evaluation of the Zenex Literacy Project by Lauren Wildschut and Johann Mouton, Evaluation Research Agency (ERA)
  3. Lessons on designing and implementing early grade literacy project evaluations by Dawid-Willem Pienaar, DNA Economics
  4. Complex interventions and the challenges for evaluation design by Johann Mouton, ERA

Commission 1: Literacy Teacher Training

The presenters described teacher training models being implemented by interventions such as Zenex Literacy Project, EGRS, NECT and Funda Wande, and unpacked what the appropriate literacy resources are to support teacher agency. The topics presented in this Commission were:

  1. Teacher training model: EGRS and NECT by Lorraine Marneweck, Class Act
  2. Teacher training in the Zenex Literacy Project by Sarah Murray, Rhodes University
  3. Funda Wande Programme by Zameka Lubelwana and Nwabisa Makaluza, Funda Wande
  4. Resources for early reading: Supply, delivery, management and use by Tessa Welch, SAIDE

Commission 2: Literacy Coaching

The presenters unpacked the diverse coaching models undertaken by literacy interventions currently being implemented, namely: their rationale, content, approach, dosage, training of coaches, embedding coaching within the system, as well as costs. The topics presented in this Commission were:

  1. Coaching as a critical success factor by Adele Ivy and Portia October, New Leaders Foundation
  2. Early Grade Reading Study by Dorothy Molapo, Instructional Reading Coach, Molteno/Class Act
  3. Early Grade Reading Study by Gina Ermacora, Virtual Coach, Molteno/Class Act
  4. National Education Collaboration Trust Model by Enesel Ubisi, NECT
  5. The Jika iMfundo Literacy Coaching Model by Tom Sokhela, PILO

Commission 3: Literacy Research

The topics presented in this Commission were:

  1. Lessons on using the EGRS in the early grade assessment by Nompumelelo Mohohlwane, Department of Basic Education
  2. Adapting EGRA to assess early literacy in three provinces: Lessons from the ZenLit Project 2015 – 2017 by Lilli Pretorius, UNISA
  3. Analysis of key research trends in literacy teaching and learning by Ursula Hoadley, University of Cape Town
  4. Issues in teaching and learning literacy: Lessons from the Eastern Cape by Brian Ramadiro, Nelson Mandela Institute, University of Fort Hare

Closing Plenary

  1. National Reading Coalition: Supporting the Read to Lead Initiative by Godwin Khosa, NECT
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