Past Projects

Below are short summaries of just some of the projects relating to the work of the Early Literacy Unit in PRAESA’s 20-year history working in language policy and multilingual education from 1992 to 2011.

Early Literacy Unit (ELU) (1998 – 2011)

The Early Literacy Unit has helped begin to transform how young children learn to read and write in South Africa and other parts of Africa. The Unit has done so through the training of trainers and teachers’ programmes based on emergent biliteracy approaches; research and development to put meaning making and stories at the centre of classroom learning; and facilitating children’s storybook development for multilingual settings.

Battswood Biliteracy Project (1998 – 2003)

A biliteracy research and development project was conducted as part of a larger PRAESA programme called The Multilingual Demonstration Schools Project which aimed to support the implementation of the National Department of Education’s Language in Education Policy of 1997, which promoted additive approaches to bilingual education (For more information read Neville Alexander’s “The Experience of Mother Tongue” here). At Battswood Primary School in Cape Town we began a development research programme in response to the school’s request for assistance with approaches towards teaching multilingual groups of children. We thus set out to explore some of the possibilities and challenges for bilingual learning and teaching in an ‘ex-coloured’ multilingual classroom with the intention of creating a model for early biliteracy teaching and learning that could be adapted by others.

Team teaching in isiXhosa and English was used to raise the status of isiXhosa and to teach simultaneous isiXhosa-English biliteracy to a class of isiXhosa-speaking children from grade 1 to grade 6 over a six-year period. Early literacy approaches included an emphasis on emergent writing, interactive writing, emergent reading and frequent story reading in both languages. For related information and papers visit our Conference Papers and Presentations section.

View the Battswood Biliteracy project photo gallery

Free Reading in Schools Project (FRISC) (2000-2005)

FRISC arose from and supported the notion that one of the vital ingredients of literacy learning – and the development of a culture of reading – is the practice of voluntary reading (for enjoyment, information and so on). For more information on free reading, click here or watch this video on the Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen.

Researchers worked in several Cape Town schools to mentor reading for enjoyment with grade 1 and grade 4 children. Strategies included reading aloud, encouraging children to read alone or in pairs, silently or out loud. Teachers were mentored in accessing, choosing, reading and suggesting books in isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English. The project provided information about the reading habits of not only children, but also of their teachers. One of the key insights was that many teachers are not themselves story readers and have not come to appreciate the significance of free voluntary reading with children for literacy learning.

First Words in Print (FWIP) (2000-2004)


Between 2000 and 2004, The Early Literacy Unit worked with The Centre for the Book and other partners to conceptualise, initiate and carry out a project to develop and distribute appropriate storybooks to very young children. Read more about First Words in Print.

Tell Project

The TELL project was set up to improve the quality of literacy and biliteracy teaching in Early Childhood Development in South Africa by developing training materials for initial and in-service teacher education. Funding through the British Council Higher Education Link Award scheme has made it possible for colleagues at the University of Reading and PRAESA (Project for Alternative Education in South Africa), an NGO based at the University of Cape Town, to work together on the development of the materials.Although the materials were initially designed for training teachers in South Africa, it is anticipated they will be of use in many other multilingual settings, particularly in Africa.

The Culture of Reading Project (2002-2007)

The Culture of Reading Project, funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy (RNE), took place between 2002 and 2007. The project grew out of previous research and materials development work undertaken on a small scale as PRAESA attempted to raise awareness about the significance for literacy development in South Africa of raising the status of African languages in print and producing reading materials for children in the languages they speak.

The three main aims of the programme were:

  • to stimulate the production of high quality, multilingual materials for children,
  • to develop allegiances with other similarly minded individuals and organizations,
  • to initiate activities which help promote a culture of reading as opportunities arose.

With funding support from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, a series of original writings and translations in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English were published, independently by PRAESA, as well as in collaboration with publishers. Print runs of these books were donated widely to schools, community projects and libraries. The books included titles for children of all ages.

For an evaluation of the project, click here or download Building Bridges Between Oral and Written Language: Facilitating Reading Opportunities for Children in Africa.

View The Culture of Reading Project photo gallery

The Language and Linguistic Diversity Project (LDL) (2004-2006)

This collaborative ‘South-North’ project fell within the framework of the UNESCO Literacy Decade 2003-2012 which supports L1 instruction, bi- and multilingual education and linguistic diversity in general as a means to promote social cohesion and intercultural understanding.
In general, the project aimed to:

  • raise awareness, stimulate and encourage research in the field of materials development for L1 and multilingual education, including guidelines for materials development and work with such materials;
  • foster an intercultural dialogue and exchange of experience and developments between European and African countries;
  • examine the educational and cultural aspects of the management of mother-tongue literacy in African countries and of migrant/minority language literacy in European societies.

For more details, visit our Recommended Research and Other Reading section or click here.

The Stories Across Africa Project (StAAf) (2004 – 2009)

StAAf was initiated in response to the huge need to make appropriate storybooks available to children across the continent in the languages they speak. Although young children are expected to learn to read and write at more or less the same time as their peers in the North, most do not do so in ways motivated by the joys of stories or other meaningful reading. Priority is given to textbooks full of ‘skills’, often as dry as the dust blowing outside the classroom window. Like the rest of daily life, school is often tough going.

As we know that the way to stimulate a child’s imagination is through stories, StAAf questioned why African children should continue to be denied the pleasure of getting lost (or found) in a story and set out to change the situation.

StAAf was one of the core projects of ACALAN (The African Academy of Languages), the official language body of the African Union. Central co-ordination of StAAf was by the PRAESA Early Literacy Unit with regional sub-centres in each of Central, West, East and North Africa. The main aims of StAAf were to:

  • develop and support the use of African languages in print;
  • support mother tongue based bilingual education in Africa;
  • stimulate and support the African publishing industry and African literary and visual artists to create and foster the use of children’s literature;
  • begin to create a common store of written children’s literature for African children;
  • support possibilities for reading for enjoyment as part of literacy learning and development.

The aim was to do by creating, producing and disseminating anthologies of stories for children from birth to teens in their own languages as a pan – African collaborative project. The Ford Foundation provided financial support for the ‘start up’ phase of StAAf (2004 -2007) link to Background StAAf doc in folder research readings.

An opportunity to carry out a pilot project arose with 2006 being declared the Year of African Languages (YOAL) at the African Union (AU) summit of African Heads of State in Khartoum on 23 January 2006.

The intention of the YOAL was to raise awareness of the need to enhance the status and the uses of African languages in powerful functions, especially in print. This may seem unconnected to young children and storybooks, but it isn’t! Learning to read can be meaningful and fun, if it happens in a language you understand and feel comfortable with, and if it motivates and inspires you through wonderful and imaginative stories. All other learning grows from this foundation.

To commemorate the YOAL, PRAESA and StAAf produced Building Story Bridges to Literacy, and a set of 16 Little Books for Little Hands, which were published by New Africa Books in 23 languages, including all 11 South African official languages. (insert pics of Little Hands and children using books and posters etc in folder StAAf )

StAAf also held a writers and illustrators workshop to support development in the craft of young children’s storybook writing in Cape Town for African literary artists during 2006. This workshop was facilitated by the well-loved and respected children’s writer and illustrator, Niki Daly.

View the StAAf photo gallery

The 3 R’s project

Between 2007 and 2011 PRAESA was one of the partners in the 3Rs project which conducted research on the various dimensions of the literacy and numeracy challenge in South African schools. Research was planned and conducted by a consortium involving PRAESA, the Education Policy Consortium (EPC), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and JET Education Services (JET). Funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the project was coordinated by the Education and Skills Development Programme of the Human Sciences Research Council.

The Consortium met with and reported directly to the Department of Education over the 5 years of it’s exploration into specific policy options as well as establishing models of good practice to support ongoing efforts to improve the quality of education.

The name 3Rs derives from a common concern with understanding blockages to the effective learning of reading, writing and arithmetic on the part of children from disadvantaged homes. The overall aim of the programme was to contribute towards developing the capacity of the education system to ensure that all children in South Africa complete a full cycle of good quality basic education through improving the literacy and numeracy skills and capabilities of learners.

For more information, click here or visit our Recommended Research and Other Readings section

PRAESA‘s contribution was two-fold:

  • The project for creating literate school communities
    The key aim of this study was to deepen knowledge and information about critical aspects of early literacy. The study aimed to contribute towards better understandings among teacher trainers and teachers of how to teach in ways that help ensure children are motivated and successful literacy learners; establish the validity and viability of emergent literacy/whole language approaches to literacy learning within the DOE and pre-service training institutions; create models of effective biliteracy teaching and learning and family literacy that could be adapted and replicated in other settings; help to create environments in school and outside, that are conducive to literacy learning and help to establish meaningful reading and writing habits among teachers, caregivers and children.
  • The dual medium-biliteracy project
    The aim and objectives of this project were to (a) establish, by means of an audit, the extent and modalities of dual medium schooling in South Africa, with special reference to the Western Cape province; (b) identify and explore the issues that have to be addressed, especially in the intermediate phase, when two language media are used for effective learning and teaching; (c) contribute towards building overall teacher capacity to use bilingual methods of teaching and learning; (d) enable teachers to develop bilingual learning and teaching materials and (e) develop appropriate classroom strategies for dual medium teaching and learning.

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