Reading by example

8 Aug

Frans (left) and Nicolaas with Frans' house on Wagenheim in the background

You can see that they have been friends forever. Neither one gets irritated when the other jumps in to finish his sentence. Nicolaas October (46) and Frans Willemses (47) excitedly interrupt each other when talking about the Adult Literacy Program.

We still have all our books. You know a lot of people fell by the wayside. Like real school children some ran away during break time. It was…” says Nicholaas. Ja, we were very disappointed when that particular group disintegrated. But we were very impressed with the people from Worcester (the Worcester Community Learning Center).” says Frans.

The classes took place twice a week over a period of two years. The two were not complete newcomers to the world of letters, but wanted to improve their primary school level reading skills. I could not read the newspaper properly. It was as if the words were stuck. That first day I could read a sentence without stumbling over my words, what a feeling! It was as if a flower of joy opened up inside of me,” Frans says, stroking his tie.

The church service on Wagenheim just ended and both men are still in they Sunday attire: suit and tie. The community is very religious and for Nicolaas the most important reward was “to be able to read his Bible properly.” On the “parking lot”, which is really just an open dusty space between the small community centre used for church services, grass lawns and workers houses, people are still milling around. No one looks in a particular hurry to get home. Two kids dangle on Nicolaas’s leg screaming “Oupa, Oupa”.

With the choices they have made, they have tried to lead, or to read if you like, by example. Going back to school after more than 30 years was not easy, but they hope to have showed the younger generation that everything indeed is possible. During the days they worked the vineyards and studied at night or over the weekends.

When it came to exam time, it got hot in that kitchen. I wanted out! But Nicholaas was the one who always motivated me. It was hard being on the school benches after 30/40 years. Many days I was sitting, hands in my hair. I wasn’t understanding this business. You know in my day all you had to know was multiplication tables. What is 3×4? And then you were fine. Now there were all these funny fractions and decimals,” Frans recalls.

One of the most difficult things was learning to communicate in English, not extensively used in the community where the mother tongue of most people is Afrikaans. We had to write an English letter in class. I wrote one to my wife talking about the time we met and so on. But you should’ve seen it! She drew lines through everything I did wrong! She lived in the city (Cape Town) and her English is better than mine,” Nicholaas tells.

So? Does he still write letters to her in English?
Gmh. Huh? No, you see…hehe.”

Their biggest desire is to see the youth of the community excell. Their biggest desire for themselves is to go back to school.
Says Frans: “I still have hopes of becoming a diesel mechanic”.
Says Nicholaas: “I have gotten the taste for learning.”

****

Some stats on the Adult Literacy Program
Literacy classes were offered from Grade 3 to Grade 12. On average the literacy level of individuals are: 40 – 65 years, Grade 3 – 4; 30 – 40 years Grade 6; below 30 years, Grade 10.

Number of attendees so far across all groups:
2008 – 168 participants
2009 – 102 participants
2010 – 14 participants (Only for the computer training classes. Literacy classes are taking a break)

Pass rates
Gr 8 tot Gr 9:
2008 – 40%
2009 – 52%
Gr 10 tot Gr 11
2008 – 33%
2009 – 70%
Gr 12
2008 – 2009: 75%

Computer literacy N4
2008 – 2009: 20 of the 36 participants passed

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