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Since 1967, International Literacy Day is celebrated annually on 8 September, and is an opportunity for Governments, civil society and stakeholders to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. 

To mark the day, the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Adult and Community Education Unit (A&CE unit) held an International Literacy Day Webinar themed: Literacies in 2020, last week, via Microsoft Teams. 

The guest speakers were Professor John Aitchison, Professor Sibusiso Moyo, Dr René Smith, Mr Silas Zuma, Dr Sibusiso Mthethwa, Dr Joe Molete and Ms Zamalotshwa Thusi-Sefatsa. 

Prof Aitchison started the online event by focusing on stumbling blocks to the provision of education for adults in the state-run system which he had indicated has not grown as it should have. He also spoke on the effects of COVID-19 and the lockdown, which have even further decimated the sector.  

Prof Aitchison has played a significant role in adult education policy development at both national and provincial levels as well as in the development of school teacher upgrading programmes, materials for schoolchildren and adult learners, TVET and Community College funding policy, and new curriculum standards for the teaching of reading in schools.  

“Literacy, basic education all depend on people being able to read, write and count effectively. Now we have a tragedy in South Africa, that our schooling system is not creating a new generation of highly literate people. In 2017, we got the results of survey tests done of South Africa Grade four learners, 78% could not read at all in their home language for meaning. South Africa is the worst among 50 counties being tested using these survey tests in their home languages, so we have a tragic situation where although the schools are churning out learners, they are not effectively literate, and grow into a generation of adults who have a bit of literacy, but not enough,” he said.  

Continuing the discussion was DUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo, who concentrated on ideas about how everyone can make an impact in communities and the region in terms of contributing towards adult education.  

Her topics of discussion included literacy typologies, foundations of education, research and innovation, indigenous knowledge systems versus literacy and skills and infrastructure requirement beyond COVID-19. She said that there is a vital need for a bouquet of soft skills, robust education systems and quality teaching and learning.  

“There needs to be increased focused resources for youth and adult literacy as well as mutually beneficial sectoral partnerships to allow for skills development for example in entrepreneurship, scientific and financial literacy,” she said.  

Giving her input, Dr Smith, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design at DUT, who spoke on digital and media literacy said: “These new literacies are of crucial importance in the ‘new normal’ we find ourselves in with the massive shift to online communication.”  

Giving more feedback on the The South African Forum for Community Colleges, the post-school education and training sector, the definition and role of a Community College, target groups for Community Colleges, Community Colleges institutional landscape and its programmes, was Mr Silas Zuma.  

He has more than 40 years’ experience in the adult education sector, where he is well-known for his tireless and devoted lobbying for the development of a decent Community College system. 

 Also giving his input was Dr Sibusiso Mthethwa, the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) principal of the new Community College system, who is in charge of hundreds of adult learning centres and thousands of adult educators in the province. DUT’s Campus Director for the Midlands Campuses, Dr Joe Molete spoke on the exciting, proposed Imbali Education, Science and Precinct Innovation(IEP) 2030. 

 He said the precinct was proposed by Minister Blade Nzimande in 2014, as a mechanism to pilot and explore an alternative modality of education delivery. He stressed that the Imbali Education Precinct (IEP) is intended to be the first of three precincts to be established as part of the new National Plan for Post-School Education and Training. He plans to grow the campuses, and the Imbali Education and Innovation Precinct as a model to transform the regional economy. He also spoke of the value of including a Community Learning Centre in the developing Imbali Education and Innovation Precinct. 

 The last speaker of the day was Ms Zamalotshwa Thusi-Sefatsa. She is an activist, teacher, facilitator and moderator who is passionate about Skills and People Development. 

 She started her presentation by defining literacy as seen in the context of COVID-19. “Without choosing to, we were plunged into various platforms as the need to communicate beyond physical meeting ensued. We learned new ways of relating to and with one another without physical contact, e.g. praising and worshipping online for spiritual nourishment. Social Media Literacy became a glaring need in order to mitigate the void brought about by COVID-19. COVID-19 thrusts us into an era where children could not even play any sport thus affecting their social skills and a need for parents to find ways to deal with this and get themselves literate to deal with children whose social skills are dissipating,” she said. 

 Pictured: One of the speakers, DUT’s Dr René Smith. 

 Waheeda Peters 

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