Literacy Skills Improvement: The Key to Reach the World


The statement by Frederick Douglass; “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” inspires us and highlights the necessity of literacy acquisition for all human beings. Literacy skills are not only indispensable for all individuals but also determines the success of a person in society.


According to Cunningham et al. (2009), literacy acquisition starts long before a child enters school; it starts at birth with the child being exposed to and learning the sounds of the first language or mother tongue. This process continues throughout the preschool years and early grades, aided by stories, rhymes learned, and songs that are sung. The preschool years, therefore, form the basis for literacy acquisition since it is during these years that language develops. A stimulating environment during these years will ensure good oral language skills and will serve as a foundation for sound literacy skills to develop. Then, what is the result of a less-than-ideal environment for language development and literacy acquisition during the early years?


sunbooks 1Literacy acquisition for children in disadvantaged conditions


The reality is that many children start school with insufficient early literacy skills necessary to successfully acquire literacy. Contributing to this scenario, some teaching and learning practices are built in a second language where the young learner is not always sufficiently proficient. One of a variety of reasons for this dilemma is insufficiently developed oral language skills: Phonological awareness, an oral language skill, is a vital foundational skill to literacy acquisition and can be defined as a person’s consciousness of the sounds and sound patterns of spoken words (Bernthal et al., 2013).


For instance, young learners in South Africa have low literacy skills as determined by the past three five-yearly evaluations by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) (Howie et al., 2017). Various reasons for this situation are stated in the literature, with insufficient phonological awareness skills mentioned as an important factor (Eslick et al., 2020).


In order to enhance the skills needed for successful literacy acquisition, various researchers suggest programs that focus on the scaffolding of the phonological awareness skills mentioned above, including general oral language skills.


Inclusive literacy interventions


The World Literacy Foundation (WLF), a global leading literacy organization working to improve children’s literacy skills. Their ultimate goal however is to contribute to the eradication of poverty by equipping learners with the literacy skills necessary to excel and build a better future for themselves. With the prospect of being economically free in mind, the relevance of the quote by Frederick Douglass is clear.


sunbooks 2One of their main projects is Sun Books, an intervention strategy to assist young learners in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to become successful readers. Sun Books has developed a technological tool that comprises 600 e-books in English, 50 e-books in local languages, and other localized educational resources for learners in remote areas. The content is preloaded on a solar-powered tablet to be available offline as well to reach learners in rural or remote classrooms with limited or no internet connection and electricity.


The WLF and Sun Books appreciate and acknowledge the local culture, the language of the learners, and the specific education system and curriculum for the successful implementation of the literacy skills enhancement program. They incorporate locally relevant content, stories, sounds, images, and encourage the participation of the community, especially the teachers and parents.


The WLF plans to launch Sun Books at a primary school in a rural part of Gauteng in 2021, focusing on Grade 4 learners learning to read and write in English. A research project describing the outcomes of this literacy enhancement program is planned as well. Scientific evidence of the outcomes should allow Sun Books to efficiently adapt their programs, if necessary. Programs like these of the WLF, aimed at improving literacy skills, are invaluable, especially in areas with few resources and low economic development.


Learn more about Sun Books at www.sunbooks.org

Written by: Mia le Roux



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