Run Home to Read, South Africa

  • Date published:
    19 December 2013

Programme Overview

Programme Title Run Home to Read
Implementing Organization Project Literacy (established in 1973)
Language of Instruction mother tongue
Date of Inception June 2006

Context and Background

One of the most entrenched and indeed indelible legacies of apartheid-era segregationist policies in South Africa has been the severe lack of quality educational opportunities for the majority non-white population. Concerted efforts by successive post-apartheid governments to address this anomaly and, in particular, to create equal educational opportunities for and thus to reduce high illiteracy rates among previously socio-economically disadvantaged groups through various educational programmes such as the Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programme and the South African National Literacy Initiative (SANLI, 2000) have been partially successful. According to a recent study by the Ministerial Committee on Literacy (June 2006), about 9.6 million adults or 24% of the entire adult population is functionally illiterate. Of these, 4.7 million are totally illiterate (i.e. they cannot read or write because they never attended school) and 4.9 million are barely literate having dropped out of formal primary school before completing grade seven. Similarly, the State and other educational institutions have also failed to create adequate and sustainable Early Childhood Education (ECE) opportunities for children living in socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Given that parents are every child’s primary caregiver and first educator, the high prevalence of adult illiteracy coupled with the State’s failure to institute broad-based, integrated and intergenerational educational programmes (including ECE) has negative impacts on children’s early cognitive development not least because most parents are incapable of supporting them to gain pre-school literacy skills necessary for successful long-term learning. Indeed, it has been observed that many children in South Africa start school with poor pre-literacy skills (i.e. the reading, writing and numeracy) and low levels of psychosocial development (i.e. cognitive, emotional, personality etc.). Accordingly, the general poor performance and high drop-out rates of children at the primary school level has been, in part, attributed to the lack of access to quality pre-school education or Early Childhood Education (ECE) opportunities and parental learning support. Thus, in an effort to address the problem of adult illiteracy and its attendant negative impact on Early Childhood Development (ECD), Project Literacy – an NGO that was founded in 1973 to promote access to education among the poor – initiated the integrated and intergenerational Run Home to Read Literacy Programme.

The Run Home to Read Literacy Programme (RHRLP)

The RHRLP is an integrated and intergenerational (family-based) early childhood and adult literacy programme which primarily aims to make education more accessible for all and thus to promote basic literacy (i.e. reading, writing and numeracy) skills development among children and adults living in socio-economically disadvantaged rural and semi-urban communities. Although the RHRLP is an inclusive family-based educational programme, it particularly targets women (mothers and caregivers) and pre-school children who, as noted above, have been marginalised from existing educational and literacy programmes (see pictures below):

The programme was officially launched by Project Literacy in June 2006 and is based on the experiences of a similar programme that had been implemented by the Department of Library and Information Science at UNISA as a pilot project. The RHRLP is currently being implemented in twenty-five (25) rural communities or villages in the Limpopo Province and five communities in the semi-urban areas of Soshanguve in Pretoria.

As noted above, the RHRLP primarily targets pre-school children and women in order to effectively and sustainably address the twin challenges of adult illiteracy (which is disproportionately high among women) and the lack of quality ECE opportunities for children living in marginalised rural and semi-urban communities. Targeting women not only arises from Project Literacy’s quest to reduce the high female illiteracy rates in the country but also from the realisation that women, as the primary caregivers and children’s first educators, play a critical role in shaping children’s psychosocial (i.e. cognitive, personality, emotional etc.) development and thus their overall lives. As such, improving women’s literacy skills invariably enhances their capacities to support their children to acquire basic literacy skills necessary for successful long-term learning. In addition, women’s positive appreciation of the role of education in their lives also influences children to value education, thereby reducing the high school drop-out rates and general poor performance currently bedevilling South Africa’s education system.

Programme Aims and Objectives

The fundamental goals of the RHRLP are to promote basic literacy skills development and a culture of family-based or intergenerational learning among socio-economically disadvantaged children and adults (i.e. to make “every home a reading home and every child and parent a reader”). Essentially therefore, the programme strives to improve adult literacy and to promote early childhood literacy skills development (i.e. Early Childhood Education) by actively encouraging parents, guardians / caregivers and children to learn or read together in order to support each other’s literacy skills development. In addition but related to this, the programme also endeavours to:

  • Promote intergenerational (family-based) learning;
  • Empower women to participate actively in their children’s education;
  • Promote quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) practices in marginalised communities in order to enhance children’s psychosocial skills development;
  • Create sustainable home-based Early Childhood Education (ECE) opportunities for children living in marginalised rural and semi-urban areas in order to equip them with quality pre-school literacy skills necessary for successful long-term learning,
  • Equip women with functional or livelihood skills necessary for improving their families’ living standards; and
  • Facilitate the socio-economic empowerment and advancement of people living marginalised rural and semi-urban areas;

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Design and Development of Teaching-Learning Materials

In order to facilitate the successful and sustainable implementation of the RHRLP, Project Literacy has developed various illustrative teaching and learning materials for use by learners and programme facilitators or trainers (known under the programme as reading champions). The teaching-learning package, which is available in several languages including English, TshiVenda, Sepedi, Xitsonga, isiZulu and Siswati and provided to participating families for home-based learning, is comprised of:

  • Two Activity Books—designed by Project Literacy materials department,
  • Six Readers-Stories published by Kagiso in four African languages,
  • One Caregiver Guide developed by Project Literacy materials department in four African languages, plus English,
  • One Pack of Crayons,
  • One T-shirt, and
  • One bag.

Recruitment and Training of Programme Facilitators (Reading Champions)


The implementation of the RHRLP, including the recruitment of new learners, is heavily dependent on a cadre of trained and committed community-based educators or facilitators (reading champions), caregivers and professional field workers working under the overall supervision of a project manager.

Programme facilitators or reading champions are normally recruited from and are entrusted to provide learning assistance or support to ten (10) families within their communities. In order to enable the reading champions to execute their teaching duties effectively and efficiently, Project Literacy provides them with on-going training and mentoring in:

  • Adult and child-appropriate teaching-learning methods, (i.e. they are trained on how to read to a two-year-old and an adult as well as on how to help illiterate caregivers “read” to their children);
  • Development and production of teaching-learning materials and;
  • Assessment of learning processes and outcomes.

Reading Champions are also trained to, among other things, identify and recruit learners or families with ‘acute’ learning needs based on the objectives of the programme i.e;

  • Is the caregiver at home?
  • Does this family have children between the ages of 0- 7?
  • Does the family have reading materials?
  • Is there an interest from the family to participate on the programme? Preference is always given to poor families with pre-school aged children not attending ECD.

Once qualified, the reading champions are paid a small stipend for twenty (20) hours of work per week. They are also obliged to stay in regular contact with their fieldworker who provides them with ongoing technical teaching assistance.

In addition, Reading Champions and Fieldworkers also provides parents and guardians / caregivers with technical training in early childhood education and on how to use their local libraries in order to enhance their child rearing skills as well as capacity to develop their children’s literacy skills. The strategy of involving parents and caregivers (adults) as children’s educators is not only intended to enable them to develop and enhance their literacy skills but also to create sustainable opportunities for home-based Early Childhood Education (ECE) for children living in difficult situations.

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods


Within the RHRLP, participating families are obliged to attend literacy classes for three months after which they are encouraged to make full use of their local libraries and family or community networks to continue learning. During the three-month period of ‘formal’ learning, classes are conducted by reading champions at participants’ homes (i.e. through face-to-face family-based teaching / mentoring). Participating families are also encouraged to learn together and on their own using the learning packages provided by Project Literacy or books borrowed from local libraries. In either case, facilitators and learners are encouraged to employ participatory teaching-learning methods including group discussions (based on particular book readings and / or pictures), reading, writing and counting together and singing while reciting rhymes about, for example, bees, frogs and the colours of the robot. Colouring books are also used to promote the development of cognitive and writing skills among learners.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Programme monitoring and evaluation are central activities in the implementation of the RHRLP and as such, Project Literacy has developed the necessary tools and strategies in order to make these processes highly informative. Typically, monitoring and evaluation of the programme and, in particular, the learners’ performance and learning outcomes is conducted on an on-going basis by both internal (i.e. Project Literacy) and external professionals. With regards to external evaluation, the RHRLP was evaluated by the Impumelelo Committee and awarded the Silver Award of the Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust (2010) and the Mail and Guardian Drivers of Change Award (2009) in recognition of its contribution to educational development in South Africa.


Internally, the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation progress of the RHRLP and learning outcomes is undertaken by Reading Champions, Fieldworkers and Project Manager on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Weekly programme evaluation is conducted by Reading Champions during their visits to participating families. During this exercise, the Reading Champion makes use of the Reading Champion Resource Book, Reading Champion Log Sheet and Reading Champion Comments to record the caregiver and children’s participation, performance and challenges encountered during the week. Caregivers are also given a Caregiver Manual (in Mother Tongue) that provides them with valuable information on how to assist their children with reading.

In the second phase of the internal evaluation process, a Fieldworker visits two families being assisted by Reading Champion every month. The Fieldworker makes use of the Monitoring Tool for Fieldworkers to undertake a pre-reading, during reading and post-reading observation / evaluation exercise. The Fieldworker also questions the caregiver on progress, use of reading materials, relationship with Reading Champion and any changes that have happened in the home. The fieldworker also scans the Reading Champion Log Sheet and comments made by the Reading Champion to identify any challenges so that he/she can assist where necessary. The fieldworker compiles all findings in a Monthly Report which is submitted to the Project Manager.

Finally, the quarterly evaluation process is conducted by the Project Manager. During this process, the Project Manager conducts on-site or field monitoring visits accompanied by the Fieldworker and Reading Champion. The Project Manager also makes use of the Monitoring Tool for Fieldworkers and the Reading Champion Log Sheet to compile a report of his / her visit. Information regarding the performance of the Fieldworker and Reading Champion will be detailed in the Project Manager’s Monthly Report, Fieldworker’s Monthly Report, and Monthly monitoring tool for Fieldworkers and Reading Champion log-sheets. In addition, the Project Manager also convenes quarterly meetings or workshops with reading champions and fieldworkers working in different locations or communities. At these workshops, participants evaluate the overall successes and challenges which they encountered. They also use the occasions to share their field experiences and to assist each other to improve their teaching skills

Programme Impact and Challenges


Despite being in its infancy, the RHRLP has quickly evolved into one of South Africa’s most innovative and effective integrated and intergenerational early childhood and adult education programme as manifested by the number of nationally recognized educational awards it has won to date (see above). The programme’s key and easily discernible impacts include:

  • As of August 2009, the RHRLP had provided educational training services to 2 600 caregivers and 4 800 pre-school children. Overall, 3 400 families had benefitted from the programme by the end of 2010. In addition, the programme has also promoted a culture of reading within communities as manifested by field reports indicating improved use of community-based libraries;
  • Improved literacy skills among pre-school children: According to reports by the most local primary school principals, RHRLP child-graduates have greater cognitive, literacy and social skills. They are also more creative than other children who did not participate in the programme. As a result, it has been noted that RHRLP child-graduates have greater capacities to quickly comprehend new and higher-level literacy as well as to adapt to the formal school system;
  • Improved adult literacy skills: Similarly, RHRLP adult-graduates are now better able to take control of their everyday lives through activities such as filling bank and hospital forms, reading work instructions and voting. Furthermore, adult caregivers, who previously did not perceive themselves as having a role to play in their children’s early literacy development, now have a renewed sense of confidence in their abilities. Many of these caregivers had been illiterate but are now equipped with the skills to engage their children in reading and other stimulating learning activities. Armed with increased confidence some caregivers have sought further Adult Basic Education and Training. This positive change in their self-confidence levels has contributed to their increased involvement in their children's formal schooling experience, with parents questioning teaching methodology and requesting support for their children with special needs;
  • The programme has not only enabled adults to develop and enhance their literacy skills but also to proactively serve their children and communities as educators as one reading champion testified: “I like being a reading champion ... I feel I am helping my community and people really appreciate what I am doing.” (cited in Mail and Guardian). In addition, the programme has also created modest employment opportunities for the reading champions, thereby helping them to improve their living standards. Essentially therefore, the programme has empowered previously semi-literate and illiterate adults into a new world where books are viewed as a key component in the progress of their children and they feel more confident when enquiring about the progress of their children at school. It has also fostered stronger relationships between parents and their children and between families in the communities.


In common with all NGOs in the field of education, funding is a constant challenge. According to Project Literacy’s Fundraising and Communications Manager, Ms Yvonne Eskell-Klagsbrun, “The credit crunch has unfortunately adversely affected donations made to our organisation and over the past two years, in particular, we have found it increasingly difficult to secure funding ... Our current funding sources have in many instances cut their funding to us and in some instances have been unable to support us at all because of the economic climate. This has made it difficult for us to plan for the future of our projects and give our volunteers and field staff the assurance that their jobs are stable.”



Project Literacy
P. O. Box 57280
Arcadia, Pretoria 0007
Telephone: +27 (012) 323-3447
Fax: +27 (012) 324-3800
Email: info (at) projectliteracy.org.za

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 July 2017. Run Home to Read, South Africa. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 3 December 2023, 01:37 CET)

PDF in Arabic

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