Research and Evaluation Reports

READ mother tongue Literacy programme

The evaluation of the Zenex Foundation-funded development of mother tongue Literacy materials in isiXhosa and isiZulu at Grade 1 level, and Grade 1 teacher support on how to use these materials in the classroom.

Duration of Project: 2 years (2005 – 2006)

Location of project: National     

Name of Evaluation Service Provider: JET Education Services                       


After observing the poor Literacy levels in Grade 1 classrooms throughout South Africa, READ approached the Zenex Foundation to fund the development of mother tongue Literacy materials in isiXhosa and isiZulu at Grade 1 level, and to train Grade 1 teachers on how to use these materials in the classroom.

Zenex granted funding for the development and pilot of these materials and training courses in 50 schools in Eastern Cape and 50 schools in KwaZulu-Natal over the period 2005 - 2006.

The objectives of the programme included:

  • 75 - 100 teachers in the pilot group being able to use the materials to teach Language and Literacy effectively in either isiXhosa or isiZulu;
  • approximately 4 000 learners in the pilot group attaining the entire Grade 1 Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS) Home Language Assessment standards in their Home Language in all the Learning Outcomes set for language;
  • every learner being able to read all 20 books in the programme, and being able to interpret the text and illustrations in a meaningful way;
  • the learners showing a 10 - 15% enhancement regarding language ability; and
  • long term, the learners showing a 10 - 20% enhancement in English, Mathematics and Science.

Key findings

The findings included:

Materials Development

  • The structure of the programme was strongly framed, coherent, educationally sound and relatively easy for teachers to grasp. The structure was likely to help teachers with sequencing and pacing the curriculum (progression).
  • The coherence and consistency of the internal structure of units, lessons and activities was likely to increase time on task in the classroom.
  • The programme was in tune with the spirit of the Revised National Curriculum Statement, and the coverage of learning outcomes and assessment standards was excellent.
  • The way in which the materials dealt with inconsistencies in the isiXhosa curriculum document was helpful to teachers.
  • The programme assisted teachers to interpret the RNCS (i.e. in conceptualising the relationship between the curriculum statement and what ought to happen in the classroom).
  • The quality, design and durability of the materials were excellent.
  • The reading materials were carefully graded and there was sufficient repetition of vocabulary and sentence structures. There was also progression – the materials gradually became more difficult, and began to extend vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Learners were expected to do a fair amount of writing, and there was explicit bridging between speech and writing.
  • There was a good balance of whole class, group and individual work.
  • Knowledge of the alphabet, phonics and handwriting were taught systematically.

Classroom observations of teacher performance included:

  • There was a marked decrease in absenteeism of learners at the project schools.
  • The project achieved the outcomes set in terms of improving classroom practice for the first set of courses presented. There was evidence of planning and preparation by teachers, as well as achievement of the relevant learning outcomes and assessment standards as set out in the RNCS.
  • In terms of reading and writing skills, the project schools were much better able to do this than the control school counterparts.
  • There was a shift away from the exclusive ‘chalk and talk’ style of teaching to include effective large and small group work as well as individual opportunities for learners to practice their learning and skills.

Learner performance

In the section where the learners were required to match letters, the project schools outperformed the control schools.

In the section requiring that the learners read a word and draw a line to the matching picture, 62% of the learners in the project schools correctly matched all three words with the correct picture, while in both control groups just over 50% could not answer these items successfully.

In the section that required learners to look at a weather chart, find the correct picture for the underlined word and then draw a picture in the block to explain the underlined word, the project schools outperformed the control schools.

Item analyses revealed that overall learners were generally not able to do creative writing or writing that required abstract thought. Despite this, project schools performed substantially better than their control school counterparts. This suggested that the intervention was having some effect on learners’ ability to think abstractly and creatively.


It was recommended that the teachers’ knowledge of the underlying principles of the programme be strengthened so that they understood why they were teaching in particular ways and take ownership of the programme. At the same time, the programme should engage with the teachers’ own literacy practices.

Ideally learners should also have access to a classroom library and/or a school or public library.

There was a section on differentiated learning in the teachers’ guide which was excellent. However, the advice given for slower learners could be expanded. This should be linked to hearing each individual child read, diagnosing the problems of struggling readers and dealing with them accordingly. As this was probably beyond the scope of a teachers’ guide, a separate booklet should be written to deal with this aspect.

READ had clearly developed considerable expertise in the design of phonics activities for isiXhosa. This information was much needed by teachers and curriculum designers. It would be valuable if READ put together a booklet along the lines of that produced by the United Kingdom Reading Association (James 1996). Teachers need more than simple guidelines: they need to understand the principles underpinning phonics teaching.

It was recommended that the Zenex Foundation consider a future proposal from READ to continue with the development of materials for Grades 2 and 3 in isiXhosa and isiZulu, and to developing a Phonics booklet in isiXhosa and possibly isiZulu for the use of language teachers and language advisors.

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