Several convoys of Ford Ranger double cabs, loaded with boxes of books, teaching aids, and other educational materials, set out from Nkambeni Safari Camp in the Kruger National Park to visit some of the most remote and disadvantaged primary schools in the Hazyview, Mpumalanga area.
It was Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s leg of the annual Rally to READ, a flagship programme of the READ Educational Trust, founded in 1998, and spearheaded by now retired McCarthy Motor Holdings CEO and philanthropist, Brand Pretorius.
A living legend in industry circles, widely acknowledged for his invaluable contribution to the growth and sustainability of the local automotive sector since the 1970s, Pretorius is also a proud father to three sons, and seven grandchildren. Passionate about helping to change the narrative for those less fortunate, he continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the already most vulnerable members of society are not simply left to fall through the cracks.
“Education is a fundamental human right, and education in itself is an empowering right,” says Pretorius. “Equal opportunity and universal access to good quality education is one of the most effective tools by which economically and socially marginalised communities can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully in society. Unfortunately, as we all know, the right to education doesn’t necessarily align with the reality of implementing that right.”
Millions of children around the world are still deprived of educational opportunities as a result of socio-economic and cultural factors . Here in South Africa, the most recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 78 per cent of Grade 4 learners cannot read with comprehension , which inevitably means that many learners drop out of early high school. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas.
To mitigate this, Rally to READ – implemented by the READ Educational Trust with the assistance of the Rally to READ steering committee under the chairmanship of Brand Pretorius, and made possible by donations from a multitude of South African individuals and corporates – provides support to the most needy of schools in rural areas.
Rallies take place in six school districts, across five provinces. Schools selected for support are provided with books, and specially constructed ‘box libraries’ to protect the books, during the initial Rally weekend. Then each of the schools is supported for a period of three years with teacher training and classroom support visits by READ field staff. The ‘box library’ stock is supplemented each new Rally year with more advanced reading material.
Teachers are also tutored on literacy and language methodologies by dedicated READ trainers. READ trainers monitor and mentor teachers and are, in turn, monitored and mentored by senior READ trainers, who quality assure the project. All READ trainers’ work is done in conjunction with the Department of Education’s subject advisers and school district offices.
Simply by equipping teachers with the tools and training they need to create print-rich classrooms and stimulating learning environments for the children, morale amongst teachers dramatically improves. And as the children’s reading and writing skills improve, so their confidence grows. Literacy gaps are bridged, and an increasing number of learners are now making their way confidently into high school, and even university.
Not only are strong literacy skills linked to higher Matric pass rates and university enrolment rates, but also higher emotional intelligence. Reading helps us to better understand other people and cultures, and make wiser choices regarding our role models and friendships and relationships – all essential skills for a young person to acquire and assimilate, especially during the crucial formative years.
From Grade 1 to Grade 3 we learn to read; from Grade 4, we read to learn. The more we read, the better we read. And the better we read, the more we learn.
All it takes for children to significantly improve their reading is daily practice. By reading books that interest them, for just 20 minutes every day, a child will see 1.8 million words in one year, while another child who reads for only one minute a day will see just 8,000 words in that same year.
This is why it’s so important for us to not only teach our children literacy skills in the classroom, but to ensure they have access to a wide variety of material to read for pleasure, outside of school hours. And this is what the Rally provides. By the end of the three-year Rally cycle, schools will not only have ‘box libraries’ filled with classroom resources, but also classrooms filled with independent readers.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the ongoing support of our loyal sponsors,” says Pretorius. “This year alone, Ford assisted us with an incredibly generous R1-million donation to help us continue our work. But over and above that, we are also so very grateful for the logistical support they provide in their fleet of Ranger bakkies, helping us to physically get the books and supplies to the schools, which are often in very difficult to reach locations. We’re talking wading through rivers sometimes, and climbing rocky roads that only the very toughest of 4x4s could handle.”
“It is our honour and privilege to support such a worthy cause,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Our partnership with Rally to READ goes way back to 1999, and it’s an association of which we are extremely proud. Being a good corporate citizen has always been a core value of Ford, and our commitment to sustainability is a key part of who we are. We believe that by supporting communities and members of society who can’t support themselves, and providing opportunities so that they can better themselves, we will have a profound impact on the future of our country. And education is the foundation we all need for a lifetime of learning and work opportunities.”
“For us, coming on this Rally, and actually meeting the beneficiaries of the programme, is a very special opportunity,” he continues. “To share in the excitement of the book hand-over, to meet and engage with the teachers, children, parents and caregivers, and to see first-hand the tangible results of this programme – the very real progress that is made in the schools we support – is both humbling and inspiring.”
Interestingly, while reading practice can help a child compensate for, and even overcome, the challenges of being socially or economically disadvantaged, the equivalent lack of reading practice can actually reverse or erase the advantages of a child who comes from a privileged background , making the relevance of reading practice equally important for all children, from all walks of life.
Ultimately it is our responsibility as adults, and our collective duty as civil society, to provide all of our children – from all socio-economic backgrounds, in big cities or small villages, in every province across the country – with the opportunities they need to expand their minds and unlock their full potential.
“This Rally is not just about delivering books,” concludes Berry. “It’s about delivering hope. Giving these children, their families, their communities, and our country much-needed hope for the future.”
The schools sponsored by Ford SA in the Mpumalanga leg of Rally to READ 2020 include: Mpunzana Primary School, Majika Primary School, Khombindlela Primary School, Ifalethu Primary School, Mhwayi Primary School, Mgwenyana Primary School, Umpololi Primary School, Siyamukela Primary School, and Entokozweni Primary School.
To see how you can get involved in supporting this initiative, please visit: www.rallytoread.co.za