First SA accredited course on teacher-focused early literacy skills receives high ratings

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CREDIT: GettyImages
CREDIT: GettyImages

As the first accredited course in South Africa focusing specifically on the knowledge and skills to teach early literacy, Rhodes University‚Äôs new Advanced Certificate in Foundation Phase Literacy Teaching has received high ratings from external examiners. 

The curriculum was conceptualised by Funda Wande in association with a team of academics with literacy expertise from different universities. Multiple other stakeholders were also involved, including the National Department of Basic Education, the Eastern Cape Department Of Education, and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.

The first evaluation was carried out by Dr Pamela Mason and Professor Catherine Snow of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A more recent assessment was done by Dr Nick Taylor of Joint Education Trust and Dr Anna Nkomo of Wits School of Education.

"The course content was highly rated as evidence-based, systematic and comprehensive and strongly aligned to key South African policy documents," explained Coordinator of the Advanced Certificate in Foundation Phase Literacy Teaching at Rhodes University, Sarah Murray.

According to Murray, children are expected to learn to read in the early grades (R-3) so that when they get to the intermediate grades (4-6), they know how to read and can read to learn. "Then they are no longer taught the basics of early literacy," she said.

However, assessments show that most South African children are unable to read for meaning when they enter the Intermediate Phase. A Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) showed that 78% of South African learners could not read for meaning in Grade 4. A study carried out by the Research on Socio-Economic Policy (RESEP) group in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University found that this was a binding constraint on the improvement of the education system as a whole. They also maintained that weak teacher knowledge of how to teach reading creates a "low ceiling which South Africa, as a country, cannot circumvent". 

"There has been a real need to better equip teachers with the skills and knowledge needed to teach early literacy adequately," explained Murray.

The Advanced Certificate in Foundation Phase Literacy Teaching is a 2-year, part-time, 120-credit course at Level 6 on the NQF. It is a blended course (face-to-face contact sessions) and includes online learning. 

The course's evaluation concluded that "All the data at our disposal points to this being an excellent programme, perhaps the best currently operating in either the CPD (in-service) or ITE (pre-service) sectors." 

While the course will continue in its present form, it is being considered for integration into the undergraduate Bachelor of Education Foundation Phase programmes at Rhodes University, per the evaluators' recommendations.