Tackling illiteracy in South Africa, What can be Done and What is Being Done #ThisIsUs

Edited by Steuart Pennington. I am keenly interested in education in SA. I currently work with Partners for Possibility in 16 marginalised schools in the Midlands of KZN. This article gives a glimpse as to what is being done and what can be done to tackle illiteracy in our marginalised schools


The problem

SA has a skills problem and an unemployment problem, of that there is no doubt, it is generally agreed  that appropriate education and literacy is the only way of improving the employability of South Africans (including positive economic growth).


In 2019, it was reported that 4.4 million South African adults are illiterate; could not read. Despite improvements over the last decade, this is still an alarming fact.


The United Nations Children’s Fund also notes that over the last year and a bit, well over half a million children have dropped out of schools across the country. Those who are still at school have had to adapt to a totally new learning environment with no transition period.


Children in marginalised schools had little to no internet access to do online learning. Access to technological equipment which would aid online learning is lacking among this group of disadvantaged kids. Consequently, these schools have lots of catching up to do, to make up for time lost during the peak of the pandemic, needing increased support to turn their dire situation around.


How to turn it around

By providing improved education for young people many corporates and NGO’s are setting the example of what can be done.


South Africa’s largest community loyalty programme, MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, are working tirelessly with like-minded reputable organisations to improve SA’s literacy rate. They have collaborated with Builders to provide learners with new classrooms to facilitate learning. The latest project is three Grade RR classrooms for non-profit school, Christel House in the Cape Flats worth over R1.7 million.


Adri Marais, Chief Executive Officer of Christel House explains how the new classrooms will benefit the school. “Christel House turns 20 this year and adding this crucial phase to our Early Childhood Development program has long been a dream for us. These top-quality Grade RR classrooms are putting an additional 60 students per year on a pathway out of poverty,” says Marais.


Relate and Shine Literacy is working in partnership with teachers, volunteers and parents, Shine Literacy’s award winning, evidence-based programmes provide effective and sustained support to children as they learn to read and write, helping to foster a life-long love of books and learning. Close to R500 000 has been raised in support of this initiative through the Relate trust. Founder and CEO of Relate, Lauren Gillis, believes that consistency and perseverance in providing improved education and access to learning will go a long way to helping many South Africans with literacy issues.

Readucate is another non-profit education and literacy orginisation that strives to fight illiteracy on all levels and by all means available. Founder of the Readucate Trust, Edna Freinkel, has dedicated her life to training teachers, parents and grandparents who wish to help their children improve their literacy skills.


MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet is involved in a collaboration with Book Dash, and so far have donated over 220 000 books to school children.”


Partners for Possibility

Operating in 15 000 schools country-wide Partners for Possibility (PfP) partners business leaders with school principals with a single objective of improving the schools functionality as a place of learning by focusing on instruction, infrastructure and school management. Reading for Meaning is one such NGO that PfP collaborates with to improve literacy as part of the Zero Dropout campaign working towards halving the rate of school dropouts by 2030

As Bafana Mohale, education manager at Rays of Hope says “It’s the only way that we’re going to change the heart-breaking statistic that out of every 100 children that start school in the public system, only 60 make it to matric, 40 pass matric – at a 30% pass mark, only 10 make it to tertiary education, and only 3 actually graduate. If anyone was wondering what the root cause of the desperate looting and violence was in July, they need look no further than those 60 learners out of every 100 who don’t ever finish their schooling – and are unemployable and desperate.” 



Much is being done, much is possible and much is encouraging when one reads the above.


Much of this article was written by Bryan Hefke, with some edits, images and additions added by myself. Bryan can be contacted at:


P  +27 (0) 21 462 3303
C  +27 (0)795252766
E  bryan@irvinepartners.co.za