Emily van Rijswijck
A top shopping mall, a financial services company and a university have struck up a joint venture to teach children in Soweto the joy and educational value of reading, within and outside the classroom.
The Maponya Mall Reading Programme, which targets children between the ages of four and eight, was formally launched at the mall in Klipspruit, Soweto, by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Sanlam.
The upmarket shopping centre is close to UJ’s Soweto campus.
According to the university, the aim of the programme is two-fold - firstly to promote reading and an appreciation of literature through storytelling and secondly, to give staff and students of the Faculty of Education the chance to share their storytelling skills with the surrounding community.
The Dean of the Faculty of Education, Prof Sarah Gravett, and B Ed Foundation Phase teacher education students got the programme going by reading to about 250 children throughout the morning of 17 March, the launch date.
According to Gravett, reading lays the foundation for all further cognitive development in young children and it is critical that parents read to their children and, in so doing, stimulate a passion for literature which will stay with them all their lives.
“Reading is a very important way of activating and initiating the development of more complex thinking and linguistic literacy, which can prove crucial to the years of foundation phase schooling,” she says. “The earlier reading is used as a tool to stimulate language development the better, since we never exist without language; we use it all the time.”
The Funda UJabule school
The programme will be hosted for the most part at the unique Funda UJabule (isiZulu, meaning “learn and be happy”) school on UJ’s Soweto campus. Funda UJabule, a partnership between the Gauteng Department of Education and UJ, is used as a teacher education and research facility for students planning to teach at pre-primary level.
Foundation phase students at UJ participate in classroom activities at the school and spend time as observers and assistants to the teachers.
"The overall aim is to establish a strong teacher education programme that bridges the 'theory-practice divide’," says UJ.
In an effort to reach the community, teachers and students contribute a bi-weekly column to community newspapers in Soweto in which they discuss child care and aspects of education.
Funda UJabule opened its doors in 2010, with two grade R (foundation phase or pre-school) classes offering education to 200 children in either English and isiZulu, or English and Sesotho. In time it is hoped to develop the school into a fully-fledged primary school.
In addition, Funda UJabule is a facility where students can undertake research in various related fields.
The school hosts a number of community engagement projects related to care and education in childhood, of which the Maponya Mall Reading Programme is the latest.
The reading programme also has a strong parenting focus. In the coming months the UJ Faculty of Education will host further events, some of which will train parents in the art of storytelling and help them with reading strategies at home.
Books are about more than stories and should be used as tools by parents to teach their children. The choice of a particular story can set an entire learning process in motion, Gravett believes.
“The question should not be whether I should be reading to my child, but what I should be reading and how I can use the reading experience to teach my child something about society,” she says.
“Even though reading is important for the development of linguistic literacy it should be accompanied by the deliberate attempt to teach one's child something new. Your child's success at school depends on what you are reading to them.”
This is not the first time UJ has joined forces with a financial institution to promote education and learning. In 1994 the university went into a partnership with Metropolitan Life to support the Metropolitan Raucal, a Gauteng Department of Education school established in 1992 by the then Rand Afrikaans University (since renamed as the University of Johannesburg).
The initial aim of the school was to help township pupils with an aptitude for mathematics and science to gain access to quality education. Now in its 20thyear, the school continues to post excellent matric results and, while its curriculum remains strongly focused on quality maths and science education, the selection criteria have become less restrictive.
The school maintained a 100% matriculation pass rate until 2009 but faltered a little, with one failure in each of the 2010 and 2011 academic years.
A rich history
With its rich, chequered and sometimes violent history it is no wonder that the sprawling township of Soweto (its name taken from the first two letters of the words in South Western Township) is such a drawcard for visitors to Gauteng and is one of the top ten destinations in the province.
South Africa's biggest township has written its name firmly in the history books for a number of reasons.
It was here that the Freedom Charter was signed in 1955 in Soweto's oldest suburb, Kliptown. It is also here that visitors can see the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize laureates once lived.
Former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived in Vilakazi Street in Orlando West and while Tutu's former house is still a domestic residence Mandela’s small matchbox home has been turned into a museum.
Soweto is also the place where the 1976 student uprising began, an event that sounded the death knell for apartheid and led to severe international sanctions against the country right through the 1980s.
The Hector Pietersen Museum around the corner from Mandela's old home commemorates this event.