The ‘Invisible’ Pathways to Literacy

One of the first ways children learn is through their senses, that is, as they hear, see, smell, taste and feel. Information gathered through the senses, namely, sensations, elicits an electro-chemical response. The idea that body movement is a fundamental component in young children’s learning is not new but research showed that in Grade R movement is being side-lined to meet the more formal pedagogical demands. This amounts to a lost opportunity to develop gross and fine motor skills, as well as other neuro-physical aspects of learning since through the exploration of movement the child can adjust to, understand and ultimately master their environment. The young child must overcome the pull of gravity in order to sit and stand, they must develop basic locomotor abilities, so they can move through space, and they must be able to handle objects to which he relates. Mastery of fundamental movement skills in early childhood are the building blocks for more complex movement and play an important role in the overall development of school readiness. In the early years, gross motor skills are necessary for movement, as well as to stabilise and control the body. Through gross motor skills, children improve their posture, sense of balance and co-ordination. This, in turn, enables children to develop fine motor skills that are essential for success during the subsequent school years. It is through the successful acquisition of gross and fine motor skills that the different perceptual-motor behaviours become refined.

Problem to be addressed

Despite governments efforts to increase access to Grade R education, little has been done to improve the quality. Studies have shown that these foundations vastly improve a child’s learning later in their schooling career (Harrison, June 2017). “National and provincial assessments conducted over the past ten years show that a high percentage of South African children are not acquiring basic literacy skills in their first three years at school.” (Word Works). In Grahamstown many of our schools (in the Residence programme) struggle in aspects of emergent literacy (such as identifying letter names, sounds, handling books and writing their names) (Harrison, June 2017).

Please find more in ‘Narrowing the literacy gap’ (a Word Works publication) and ‘A Report on ECD Learning Site in Grahamstown and surrounds’ (Msimango, B et. al, April 2017)

Outputs and Outcomes

  1. To engage and introduce University students to well structure education programmes that they can contribute to meaningfully. Each volunteer will work with 5 to 10 grade R children. At least 80% of these mentoring relationships are sustained through the year.
  2. To support Early Childhood Development centres in producing quality, holistic school readiness programmes and contribute to the improvement of Early Childhood Literacy Development (emergent literacy skills, specifically for Grade R children (5-6 year olds).

The Intervention will work with the following Community Partner Schools:  

  1. Samuel Ntsiko
  2. CM Vellem
  3. Grahamstown Adventist
  4. Rhodes Day Care
  5. Good Shepherd
  6. NV Cewu

Recruitment and Training of Students

  • Student recruitment will begin in the previous year to the programme running (i.e December 2019 to begin in 2020). A total of 120-140 Rhodes students will be recruited. Student volunteers will be allocated to schools in a 1:5 ratio but not higher than 1:10.
  • Training of Rhodes Students and Community Partners, on the programme content will take place at the beginning of the year (February). A second cohort of students is trained mid year to top up volunteer numbers and ensure the ration remains the same. 
  • Training will be facilitated jointly by Community Partners and (Psychology) Student Leaders. Training should strictly emphasise the need and purpose for this programme and an explanation of the “Progress in International Reading Literacy Study” (PIRLS) report and understanding the benchmark testing and its value.
  • Session content will be prescribed. It is expected that volunteers follow the plan strictly in the best interest of attaining the impact we seek.

Management of Programme

Student leaders are appointed to oversee groups of volunteers. Student leaders are Psychology Honours students who have taken the community psychology elective. 

  • RUCE Project Co-coordinator, Anna Talbot will manage the student leaders, programme design, manage relationships with schools and teachers and M&E. 
  • A part time RUCE administrator will do the stock management, publicity and following up on reporting. She is paid at a student rate.
  • School Teachers will be involved in 3 meetings for reflection and engagement around the programme – February, June and November.



How it’s met within the implementation strategy

Enhance pre-literacy school readiness for final year pre-schoolers (5-6 year olds)

  • Relevant and researched materials
  • Focussed literacy programme

To contribute to the VC Education pipeline*

*an initiative started at the inauguration of the Vice Chancellor in 2015 to revive Grahamstown schooling.

  • Formal relationships with Grahamstown partners
  • Structured and formalised approach

Enrich the quality of ECD experience for the abovementioned age group.

  • Well-resourced and trained students

Create an opportunity to contribute to the development of a young child.


  • Students who attend 80% or more of their sessions will be awarded a certificate
  • Quality training offered for student volunteers

Develop socially aware students who are aware of the inequality of education systems in Grahamstown

  • Through interaction at volunteer sites
    • Measurable through year-end reflection

Key areas of Activity

  • Two school will be visited each morning by groups of students (20 students travelling each session)
  • 12 students leaders (Psychology students) are trained in the educational resource and they train and manage the 120 student volunteers
  • A total of 15 volunteer contact sessions will take place at each school in the year.  Bus transport will be provided.
  • Children will be assessed twice, pre and post assessments

Monitoring and Evaluation

1. A pre and post developmental checklist will take place for pupils to establish the level of fine and gross motor development. The initial test will be completed by the student leaders (Psychology student leaders) prior to the programme starting and the post-test will be done in the last session. These tests are locally designed and tested. 

2. It is compulsory for student volunteers to attend one training session.

3. Reflection reports will be expected from the student volunteers after each of the 15 sessions. An end-of- year reflection would indicate student volunteer growth (attitudes-based questions). These will be done online.

4. Registers will be taken by student leaders and monitored in partnership with the programme co-ordinator. Student will be expected to attend 80% or more of the sessions to be awarded their volunteerism certificate. Student volunteers will also keep a register of the children they run the session with.

5. To efficiently include all stakeholders, quarterly reflections from partners and student leaders will be done verbally.


Last Modified: Tue, 22 Oct 2019 10:38:11 SAST