MUT’s Reading project empowers disadvantaged schools

Mbonini Primary School Principal, Nomali Mpanza, holding the trophy, with the school’s teachers and learners; and Education department officials and MUT staff

Researcher at the CEAD, Dr David Ighodaro, said they were satisfied with their efforts to improve the English language proficiency of the local primary schools that were taking part in the reading competition the directorate is running with some Umlazi Township schools.  “The project is growing in leaps and bounds. Beginning first from the classroom, more and more teachers and principals of schools are gradually understanding the model, and they are doing their best with their learners,” said Dr Ighodaro. He said that on the part of learners, there were noticeable improvements. “Learners are eager to participate;  their reading abilities have also improved, and over and above, in many of the schools, it was not the same learners who participated the last time in March that participated yesterday, indicating a spread among the Grade 4 learners, who are the focus of the project,” Dr Ighodaro said after a reading competition they had at the township’s Mbonini Primary School on 6 June 2024, in which grade 4 learners from Sukuma Primary School, Ingilosi Primary School, Emthethweni Primary School, Umgijimi Primary School, and Mbonini Primary School, took part.

The host, Mbonini Primary School, emerged as winners after scoring 328 points, and were awarded the roving trophy. Second was Ingilosi Primary School, with 314 points; Emthethweni Primary School scored 284 points; followed by Umgijimi Primary School, with 277 points. Sukuma Primary School, who were the holders of the roving trophy, scored 238 points. Five learners from each school were scored from the following: fluency, volume, reading performance, expression, presentation, and skills. Mbonini Primary School dominated five areas, doing exceptionally well even in reading stories they did not prepare for. Organisers of the competition had to take the competition step further after there was a tie in most testing areas. Judges and the organisers of the competition said they were impressed that all learners did well even at this level of the competition. The learners showed immense levels of concentration and confidence.

Explaining the reasons for the competition, Dr Ighodaro said that the majority of learners from previously disadvantaged communities have difficulties with English as a First Additional Language (FAL) macro skills, that is the ability to read, write meaningfully, listen for comprehension, and speak fluently. “The problem results in poor performance, low self-esteem among learners, and lack of motivation for teachers. The Reading Project was designed to address this problem in Umlazi Township schools,” he said, adding that the project aimed at assisting learners to improve on their reading, comprehension, and communication skills, “thus enhancing their self-esteem, as well as improvement in their educational performance”.

Officials from the Department of Education were also impressed by the level of the competition and thanked the University’s efforts at improving the learners’ English proficiency. Bukhosibakhe Mzolo, Circuit Manager of Dukumbane Circuit, told the learners that the book was to be their “eternal friend”. He told the learners they were “very lucky” to have been given an opportunity to show their reading abilities. Don’t stop reading, he said. Shameel Nandraj, from department’s Umlazi District, also highlighted the necessity for learners to read. She said the book was still the most important source of information.