Take it as read: local literacy warrior gets big boost
The International Literacy Association has put South African Nangamso Mtsatse on a prestigious list
An SA warrior for literacy, Nangamso Mtsatse, 27, has been recognised in the prestigious 30 Under 30 – a biennial list drawn up by the International Literacy Association (ILA) that “recognises rising leaders in the literacy field – young innovators, disruptors and visionaries creating positive change in the global literacy landscape”.
“The individuals on this list are solving critical issues – issues many of them have faced on their own paths to success,” says ILA executive director Marcie Craig Post.
This is certainly true in the life of Mtsatse. Her parents, a bus driver and a teacher, made it a point that she and her siblings “went to a good school – a white school – as quality of education in South Africa was still segregated according to race”.
This experience placed her in two worlds at once: at her school there were high expectations of the pupils; in her community “there was no library, no computer or labs, few resources, and unmotivated teachers”.
She knew a proper education for herself wasn’t enough and so set off on the road of expertise in literacy to help others reach their potential. She strongly believes literacy levels will rise if foundation-phase pupils are taught to read in their mother tongue in the early years.
Earning her master’s degree in assessment and quality assurance in education and training, she went on to become a PhD candidate in the department of education policy at Stellenbosch University. She is now in her second year of the PhD.
Her research envisages improving the teaching and learning of African languages in the foundation phase, and developing reliable reading assessment tools for African languages.
To this end she is a course contributor for Funda Wande, an open-source multimedia course (the first of its kind in the country) that teaches foundation-phase teachers how to teach reading.
“In my work I ask myself, why do our learners get poor results? Why are they underperforming?”
She says one of the underlying causes is that “the majority of teachers are not properly trained and are teaching how they were taught”.
In 2017, the country was shocked by a study that found that, despite our literacy rate of 94% as stated by Unesco, children were struggling to read for meaning. In other words, they could read the words on the page but could not understand what they meant. Eight out of 10 Grade 4 pupils were found to not be reading at an appropriate level.
The country was placed last out of 50 countries in the study – called the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) – which included nearly 320‚000 children globally. The survey also found that reading scores in SA had not improved since 2011.
The ability to read in Grade 4 is regarded as crucial‚ because from grades 1 to 3 you learn to read‚ and from grades 4 to 12 you read to learn.
At the time, Professor Jonathan Jansen (who is one of Mtsatse’s supervisors) pointed out in an opinion piece on TimesLIVE: “What makes this crisis so serious is that reading enables other achievements among children. Reading is, moreover, a proxy for the overall health of the school system. A child who can read well in a language class can also understand texts in a science or economics class.”
Learning to read in the mother tongue foundation phase is the key, says Mtsatse.
“It is crucial in the early years that learners are taught to read and write in their home language and get the foundations in place,” she told Times Select.
She hopes that the recognition that comes with being on a list put out by “one of the biggest reading associations” will lead to some excellent networking opportunities – especially since she is the first South African on the list.
“I want to put SA on the map in the world of literacy,” she says.
Representing 13 countries, the list of honorees includes educators, school administrators, nonprofit leaders, authors, volunteers, researchers and social entrepreneurs.
“Their contributions are paving the way to more accessible and equitable literacy learning in their schools, communities and beyond. It's an honour to recognise these young leaders whose vision and tenacity are transforming our world,” said Craig Post.