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In the eye of the storm: how Rally To Read is fighting the Covid-19 education crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened SA’s educational crisis to critical levels. What is really of concern, is that research shows the average rural child at the age of 14, (when a learner is ready to enter high school), has a literacy level of a seven-year old. This makes it almost impossible for these children to get a proper education to ensure a productive future.

R100 000 worth of books and sports equipment to be delivered to two rural schools during SA Fuel Economy Tour

Fortunately, there is one group of people dedicated to changing this. Everyone involved wants the best for SA’s children, and that is where Rally To Read steps in. Rally To Read is a remarkable story of care, collaboration and hope. It’s an example of creating strong partnerships and making a real difference – with its primary focus on promoting literacy at grassroots levels at remote rural schools across South Africa. For more than two decades, Rally To Read, in partnership with the Department of Education, has worked tirelessly alongside corporate and private sponsors to deliver books, teaching aids, Grade R educational equipment and toys, as well as other much-needed educational resources.

As Brand Pretorius, Rally To Read’s Co-founder and Chair of the National Organising Committee puts it: “We realised a long time ago that we needed to assist in alleviating the literacy problem in rural areas. By delivering aids such as world-class reading material and providing better teacher training, we have seen some remarkable results. But, most importantly, we also want to deliver hope to these learners to ensure that we empower them to have a bright future, at Rally To Read we aim to create a bridge between hardship and hope”.

In addition to books, the initiative also provides groups of rural schools with teacher training and support, delivered by the READ Educational Trust. Each school receives support for three years, during which the trust constantly monitors the learning progress. Pretorius says: “It remains a reality that children with poor literacy skills will not receive a sound formal education. However, various independent assessments over the years prove that Rally To Read has brought about a significant improvement in literacy levels and positive opportunities for the future endeavours of these children.”

Since 1998, Rally To Read has gone to great lengths to assist with literacy for hundreds of thousands of rural primary-school children. Despite severe setbacks since the pandemic hit in 2020, the programme has continued to fulfil its mission to provide the necessary aids and teacher training to schools that would otherwise be in dire straits with nothing to fall back on.

The need for donor support, however, is now greater than ever before. Studies show that in 2020, lockdowns caused children at no-fee primary schools (many of them rural) across SA to lose 60% of school days. Now, educationists report that ongoing fear and uncertainty are causing large numbers of rural children to abandon their classrooms, never to return, meaning that they may never be able to have a sustainable future.

At present, Rally To Read is working overtime to limit the impact at the schools that it supports. Educational materials provided by sponsors in 2020 are being used this year by schools in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Eastern Cape, Free State and Western Cape. Deliveries for the 2022 school year will take place in October and November. 

R100 000 worth of books and sports equipment to be delivered to two rural schools during SA Fuel Economy Tour

This continuity is possible only through the generosity of sponsors, some of whom have supported Rally To Read since its early days. They include the Jonsson Foundation, the social investment arm of the Jonsson Workwear Group. The group became a sponsor in 2001 through the personal involvement of CE Nick Jonsson. In 2018, the year the Foundation was launched, the group hosted the Western Cape rally. In 2019, it added a KZN rally and also became Rally To Read’s national lead partner, providing financial support to the overall programme. Innovations have included a rand-for-rand campaign, in which the Foundation has matched the donations of other sponsors.

Rally To Read has also enjoyed long-term support from companies like Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Bidvest, Ford, First National Batteries and Shell, as well as other corporate and private donors.  

In the past, sponsors and their guests met the children and communities which they assist in handover events. Now, because of COVID-19, this is not possible. Sponsors can, however, still visit the schools in person where they can offer their help and deliver goods.

Many of the children touched by the programme have continued with secondary school and beyond, achieving excellence along the way. Rally To Read is more than a partnership between organisers and sponsors. It is, at its core, also a partnership with national and provincial Departments of Basic Education; and most importantly a partnership with our youth, enabling them to create a bright and productive future for themselves.

For more information, or to become a sponsor, visit www.rallytoread.org.za

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Tristan Wiggill
Seasoned writer, journalist, photographer, and editor.
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