According to a study by Jessica Logan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of educational studies at The Ohio State University, by the time children are five years old, if they’ve never had anyone read to them they, on average, had only heard about 4,662 different words up till then. This compared to the 63,570 different words heard by children who were read to, once or twice a week resulting in a staggering word gap.
Besides increasing a child’s vocabulary, reading to a child has a direct impact on their cognitive development (the ability to think and understand). It also helps develop and nurture their imagination, language development, memory, attention span, knowledge about the world, and it expands a child’s access to new information.
In communities like Thembisa, parents and guardians rarely have the luxury, ability, or access to appropriate reading material in order to read to their children. Now, imagine if you’re learning a completely new language that you haven’t really been exposed to until the age of six or seven when you go to primary school. The word gap becomes even bigger. That’s why The Love Trust has partnered with the Link Literacy Project, where volunteers from The Link Project help learners in grade two and three that need extra attention at Nokuphila Primary School to learn to read. The volunteer will also spend part of the session reading a story to their child.
We spoke to Maggie Fussell, the Coordinator at The Link Literacy Project, about who and what The Link does, their partnership with The Love Trust and how people can become volunteers.
About The Link Literacy Project
The Link Literacy and Numeracy Project is a Public Benefit Organisation and the idea is that the volunteers have a one-on-one relationship with a child: one volunteer for one child. All their centres are at English-speaking primary schools with disadvantaged children. Mostly these are also children that only hear English at school and at the reading sessions with The Link volunteers. They focus primarily on grade two children because by that stage they have learnt their sounds and have started reading. The Link volunteers are there to develop their reading and comprehension.
But reading isn’t the only learning area that The Link focuses on. They also offer a numeracy program at some of their centres in the greater Johannesburg area.
In areas where they can't get volunteers, they now offer Link-in-a-Box which costs about R2 500.00. Depending on the needs of the organisation a minimum payment of R500 per box is required, the rest of the amount is sourced from donations. This is a 20-litre box filled with Link resources for five teachers. The box contains five sets of The Link Sounds cards, five sets of the games and books that go with the Sounds Cards, six basic readers, six Afro-centric story books as well as five white boards and white board markers. A successful applicant for a Link-in-a-Box will receive training on how to use the resources and benefit from on-going support.
Relationship between Teachers and the Link Project Volunteers
According to Fussell, the South African education system is in complete crisis and teachers are drowning under the pressures and lack of support. So many are talented, and dedicated teachers who are working in dire situations. The Link Project volunteers are there to assist. Fussell makes it clear that the volunteers are there to support and provide added insight to teachers where applicable. This can have a great impact, even in schools such as Nokuphila where The Love Trust has already invested heavily and paid special care to provide a wealth of support mechanisms for children, teachers, and parents. The Link Project is there to help anyone who wants and needs additional support. Be it through available volunteers or through their DIY Link-in-a-Box initiative. The point is to make sure that no child gets left behind and that every effort is made to help those that need it most.
The importance of volunteering, what it entails, and how to volunteer your time.
Centre managers and volunteers are the backbone of The Link organisation, without whom their program cannot run. Becoming a volunteer couldn’t be easier. If you can dedicate two hours a week, every school week (you’ll be working with a child for the whole year), all you need to do is visit The Link website, select a centre in your area of choice and see the dates and times of the sessions. You’ll receive the necessary training, shadow an experienced volunteer and when you feel you’re ready to work with a child you do so. No qualifications are needed, just a willingness to commit your time and effort to a child in need for two hours a week. They place the safety of the children above all else, so checks are done on all applications received.
The Link Literacy and Numeracy Project relies solely on public and corporate donations to continue their work in their 17 centers in and around Johannesburg. If you’d like to find out how you can volunteer as a reader at Nokuphila Primary or another Link centre, or how you can donate to The Link Literacy project, visit their website for more or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.