Trialogue CSI conference delegates gathered to consider improving education in South Africa at a breakaway session focused on literacy as a foundation. Effective partnerships were pinpointed as imperative.
“It is only through education that the child of a miner can become a manager,” says Angie Maloka of the MTN Foundation, paraphrasing a quote by Nelson Mandela. The MTN Foundation sponsored the Trialogue CSI conference 2015 breakaway sessions on improving education and invests 70% of budget in education initiatives, including literacy. “If you aren’t literate, you can’t use technology so literacy is vital to us,” says Maloka. She added that partnering with the right, self-reliant beneficiaries is essential to their overall quest for sustainability.
The concept of partnership underpinned the presentation and panel discussions, with Gail Campbell of the Zenex Foundation presenting that the three-person partnership between learner, teacher and parent is fundamental to literacy development. “We are still trying to work out the ideal combination,” says Campbell.
The Zenex Foundation has been funding education initiatives for 20 years, especially maths, science and language at school level. Their evidence-based approach calls for intensive background research alongside monitoring and evaluation with many lessons learnt as a result. “In developing teachers we’ve realised that training needs to be intensive and should include coaching in the classroom,” says Campbell. For learners, the Foundation’s research is indicating the importance of not only reading but writing, and on the parent front, the Foundation has developed caregiver books so young children can be supported at home. “Literacy starts at birth,” says Campbell who emphasised that parents need to be encouraged to engage with their young children.
Shawn Theunissen of Growthpoint Properties says his company is no expert on literacy, but their Corporate Social Investment (CSI) initiatives have been ploughed into literacy to address the alarming statistic indicating a deterioration in South Africa’s literacy scores from a national average of 38 % in Grade 3 in 2001 to 35% in 2011. As a property investment group, Growthpoint Properties looks to engage staff, offer rental subsidies and build social infrastructure to make a difference. Once again, this is dependent on successful partnerships and so Growthpoint Properties partnered with the Western Cape Department of Education (DOE) to start Grow Smart in response to South Africa’s literacy crisis.
Grow Smart is modelled on the American Spelling Bee format and is a spelling competition aimed at low literacy schools. “Effective partnerships are critical to the success of Grow Smart,” says Theunissen. “We had to engage on the right level with the DOE, business and our suppliers to get this off the ground. We don’t do things in isolation, the public-private relationship is crucial.”
Organisations doing things in isolation was a key concern for participants in the facilitated panel discussion, which took place after presentations by the Zenex Foundation and Growthpoint Properties. One participant asked how to attain true sustainability and partnership and wanted to see donors, NGOs and civil society engaged in strategic, knowledge-sharing discussions. Theunissen of Growthpoint Properties responded with the comment that in an ideal world, there would be a central umbrella fund managing corporate donations to education instead of individual organisations going it alone.
Maloka of the MTN Foundation continued the thought process and expressed concern that well-intentioned corporates and NGOs might be contributing to work overload in schools, “We don’t ask what other interventions are in place or assess real needs before introducing our programmes.”
In conclusion, Campbell of the Zenex Foundation summed up the conundrum: “We are all pieces of a puzzle. We must partner and collaborate more to support government, innovate and take risks.” But that is a broader subject than just literacy. All CSI stakeholders are grappling with what to do, and how to do it most effectively, together.
Written by Rose Cohen.