Literacy advancement is a founding tenet of the Sifunda Kunye Educational Project. Though it started small, the Literacy Project is now a robust portfolio of various programs and truly one of our most valuable endeavors. The Literacy Project began in 2009 as a small Saturday morning book club, conceived by our original project manager and run by student leaders in the President’s Award program at St. Matthew’s High School. Instilling a love of reading and the personal pursuit of knowledge is a crucial aspect to education success no matter where you are. The book club was our first attempt to help foster those traits in our learners. The goal was to get students and leaders together to enjoy reading and learning outside of the classroom.
In the early days of the program, as we explored ways to positively impact literacy, we reached out to two Cape Town-based programs – PRAESA and Nal’ibali. Both support book clubs for learners in poor areas around Cape Town. They also produce isiXhosa and English primary school books to help young learners develop language skills. We were very impressed by their model and we soon invited two PRAESA employees, Xolisa Guzulu and Ntombi Mahobe, to visit the St. Matthew’s book club and train some of the St. Matthew’s students to lead the clubs in storytelling, drama, and English/isiXhosa reading.
The Sifunda Kunye Literacy Center at St. Matthew’s
As the programs have grown, so has the need for a dedicated space and resource center. In August 2015, the Sifunda Kunye Literacy Center opened on campus at St. Matthew’s. The building was an unused classroom block from the old part of campus. In May 2015, Sifunda Kunye launched a large project to refurbish the building, creating a beautiful resource room for all of the Literacy Project’s activities, including the popular Saturday morning book clubs. The entire renovation cost approximately $22,000USD and took three months to complete. Sifunda Kunye Project Manager Zander Hampson led the effort with tremendous results.
The Center now houses a small primary-level reading library filled with isiXhosa and English books, a reading corner, and a larger multi-purpose auditorium space used for drama and music. Students, teachers, and staff now enjoy the space regularly. We continue adding resources and improvements to the building. One of the improvements for which we are currently pursuing funding is the renovation of the toilet block nearest the Literacy Center. Currently the kids and leaders do not have access to any form of indoor plumbing at the center. We hope to have that project funded and completed by the end of 2016.
Why are Literacy Centers vital in our lifetime?
For young children, the world is filled with wonder. Everywhere they look, there is something new to discover, and each discovery gives rise to new questions. Children use what teachers in Reggio Emilia, Italy, refer to as “one hundred languages” to share their wonder and their questions with us. In addition to the words of their language(s), young children use gestures, manipulation, drawing, sculpting, dance, pretend play, music, and even misbehavior to tell us what they know and what they wonder about. As they get older, spoken and written words become more important. The other “languages” feed into and support emergent literacy. An environment that enhances emergent literacy gives children a sense of trust and assurance even as it excites their wonder and invites them to explore. Whether it is in a home, a school, or a community setting such as a library or play space, an environment that supports emergent literacy is full of possibilities for imagining and opportunities for pretend play. It provides children with not only a wealth of spoken and written words but also many opportunities to engage in reading, writing, singing, and storytelling activities. It is on these convictions that the Sifunda Kunye Literacy Project was founded and now the Literacy Center, which is a space to make all these possibilities a reality!
By: M. Khumalo
Real-life Stories: Somila Tyobela, from St Matthews School in Keiskammahoek, shows excited St Andrews Preparatory School pupils the Xhosa books she wrote and illustrated with her friends, during a handover ceremony in Grahamstown yesterday. Picture: David MacGregor
Three heart-warming Xhosa books written and illustrated by pupils from a rural Eastern Cape school have been donated to a posh Grahamstown primary school.
Handed over on the manicured lawns of St Andrew’s Preparatory School yesterday by St Matthew’s Mission School students from rural Keiskammahoek, the books — which now occupy pride and place in the library — are a symbol of the deep roots the schools share.
Explaining the unique relationship between the schools — both opened in 1855 by the Anglican Church — St Andrew’s community engagement head, Tim Barnard, said although they drifted apart under apartheid, they had reconnected and were working together to enrich each other.
“In the last 15 years, St Andrew’s and St Matthew’s have drawn closer together, and whilst there are huge discrepancies between the cultures of a small-town traditional independent boys’ boarding school, and a rural, former Ciskei state school — which was once one of the great mission schools systematically destroyed by the Bantu Education Act — we are seeing a genuine partnership growing.”
Written and illustrated by 15 St Matthew’s students during Saturday reading classes, the stories detail the dynamics of everyday rural life and cover topics like love, subsistence farming, thieving children and the unique bonds people share with their animals. Besides the St Andrew’s handover, library copies were also given to Grahamstown no fees school The Good Shepherd — which shares the same Anglican roots. Barnard said the unique relationship between the schools was not just about handouts.
“Too often the ‘haves’ perpetuated differences by maintaining a donor-beneficiary relationship.
“The plain truth is schools like St Andrew’s need schools like St Matthew’s in their lives far more than the other way round.”
He said the real beneficiaries were pupils and teachers from St Andrew’s and Diocesan School for Girls who worked at St Matthew’s for a week during school holidays to experience the challenges of teaching classes of 75 children.
Every year two top students from Keiskammahoek are given academic scholarships in Grahamstown.
“Being able to offer pupils from the same area scholarships to our schools also enriches us.”
The books were published in partnership with Sifunda Kunye – that has been helping empower rural schools in the Amatholas for years – and St Chad’s College in England, and are aimed at addressing a shortage of Xhosa story books for primary school pupils.
Literacy project manager Mihlalikazi Kumalo said the books took four months to complete and would also be turned into audio books and played on community radio stations. Bavuyile Mamayo, who wrote about a farmer and a child who stole his fruit — said she was inspired by real-life experiences. “We all enjoy the interaction with St Andrew’s, it is great when they come visit our school — for many it is the first time they have been to a village.”