Nokothula is 10 years old and is top of her class in reading and writing. I met her yesterday at Mooiplaas in South Africa. This informal settlement of shack-dwellers has high unemployment and Nokothula’s class meets just a few metres from a rubbish dump where adults scavenge recyclable materials to sell on for a few Rand.
Nokothula’s ‘school’ is no ordinary school however. It is a literacy and numeracy class run by Open Schools Worldwide (OSWW) in the Ditshego Centre, a Methodist initiative for the people of Mooiplaas. OSWW trains local volunteers to teach a specially designed course for out-of-school children. If a child attends regularly they can come up to Grade 3 level (equivalent of P3/4) and then feed into the local school. Further support makes their completion of primary school much more likely. Children do not attend or are unable to attend school for all sorts of reasons but most can be traced to the curse of poverty.
My meeting came on the same day that UNESCO was reported saying that global pledges to provide education for all young people had little chance of being achieved, with “virtually no progress” in recent years. This is according to annual figures from the United Nations. Globally, there are currently 264 million children without access to school. The UN states that wider access to education would radically reduce poverty and improve security. It is vital in improving the health, economy and stability of some of the world’s poorest countries and yet almost 1 in 10 children do not have access to even primary education. Progress in earlier years has stagnated.
The worst out-of-school rates are in sub-Saharan Africa where 21% of primary-age children and 36% of young teenagers are missing out on school. About 61 million children miss out on primary education.
The UN study says that if all adults could complete secondary education, the economic benefits would lift 420 million out of poverty, reducing by two-thirds the numbers in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa an South Asia. For 25 years, world leaders have repeatedly missed internationally agreed targets. The current aim is to achieve universal primary education by 2030 but these statistics are sobering. Indeed current trends suggest that children will be missing out on school for generations. Also, girls are disproportionately represented.
At Mooiplaas, voluntary teacher, Jeanette Letele, says that Nokothula’s family came down from Zimbabwe in January. She could not read or write. Now she is top of her class and helps other children. Nokothula enjoys playing netball at the weekends and now likes to read stories. And what does she wish to be? A teacher of course. I hope that she achieves her dream. At least she now has the opportunity to go further in her education along with 150 other children who attend the morning classes and afternoon support at the ‘homework clubs’.
The UN report is indeed depressing but thank goodness that WDR partner, Open Schools Worldwide is making a dent in that statistic as 500 volunteers teach the literacy and numeracy programme to over 4,000 children in Southern Africa.
An innovative approach to a huge problem that some, it would seem, have given up on.