Wednesday, 16 December 2009

latest press release and article in the Times, 8th December 2009

(Click on image to enlarge and read).

Shine: Cape Times Article
By Jan Hofmeyr

Consecutive rounds of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s (IJR’s) annual SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey show that economic inequality, in the eyes of ordinary South Africans, remains the primary obstacle to bridging the country’s historical divides. Yet, over the past decade and a half this country has made little progress in narrowing the gap between rich and poor, which largely runs along the lines of the country’s historically defined population groups.

Leading economists tell us that while apartheid legislation might have been systematically abolished over this period, many of its structural roots remain resilient and continue to reproduce themselves. The harsh reality, therefore, is that while apartheid may be dead in its statutory guise, the consequences of its underlying patterns, entrenched over decades, remain alive and well. Our underperforming education system represents one of most obstinate of these inherited structural obstacles. National policy interventions have had limited impact on educational outcomes and, as such, have largely failed in fostering a sustainable and fairer distribution of the country’s wealth. Research featured in the soon to be released 2009 Transformation Audit also provides empirical proof in this regard.

The above clearly suggest that which we already know: education is in crisis. By extension though, it also implies that the longer-term imperative for national reconciliation will be profoundly affected by this inability of the education system to eradicate entrenched income distribution patterns. Given the multifaceted nature of this crisis, policy, no matter how effective, does have its limits. And even if we find the perfect formula today, a significant section of our learner population still stand in danger to become part of becoming another lost generation, unable to participate fully as citizens in the economy or the democratic structures at its disposal.

If nothing else does, this prospect should rally South Africans, regardless of their background, behind the cause to change the current trajectory of education outputs. Because we share the same future, not only the outcome of this struggle for better education to our children, but also its process, can serve to bring us together once again as a nation.

For this reason the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation has decided to extend this year’s annual Reconciliation Award to individuals and/or institutions whose passion for this cause has led them to go the extra mile for our children. The Award, which recognises the contributions of organisations, individuals, and communities to reconcile South Africans, has been awarded in 2008 to the community of Masiphumele for their attempts to reconcile a community torn by xenophobic violence, while other previous recipients include people like Tim Modise, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Brigalia Bam and Dullah and Farieda Omar.

Its choice has fallen on an organisation by the name of Shine. This non-governmental organisation provides early intervention and support to children in Grade Two and Three, who are experiencing difficulties with language and reading, and who would not otherwise have access to this kind of support. The learning is facilitated by a corps of trained volunteers, many of whom are retired teachers and other professionals. Founded in 1998 by Maurita Weissenberg, the organisation has seen 700 children graduate from the programme, while another 200 are currently enjoying the benefit of one-on-one adult mentoring by the more than 200 trained volunteers (‘learning partners’) at four centres in primary schools in the Western Cape. The mentoring helps to facilitate sound, independent learning habits and, according to an independent Western Cape Education Department evaluation, the programme has had a remarkable impact on the literacy levels of learners who have participated in it.

Throughout South Africa many communities and organisations, like Shine, have decided not to sit back and wait upon government to ‘deliver’, but to take the destiny of their country into their own hands. In honouring this organisation, the Institute also pays tribute to the many other initiatives, private and public, that share Shine’s mission to improve the educational well-being of South African learners, specifically those facing the greatest obstacles to education. Not dependent on, or seeking the national limelight, they have gone beyond rhetoric and romantic notions of reconciliation to become partners in the creation of the South Africa that we all need to aspire to. They represent the true South African spirit of struggle for a better life, which is underpinned by the belief that our humanity is inextricably linked to the lives of those with whom we share this soil.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, together with the citizens of South Africa, salutes organisations like these. Long live Shine and all those South African institutions and individuals that share their passion.


Press Release by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, 7 December 2009

SA cannot afford another lost generation

Volunteers awarded for helping kids to read and write

A group of volunteers who are helping children, with learning difficulties from disadvantaged backgrounds, to read and write have been awarded the prestigious Reconciliation Award by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).
The Shine Centre began in Cape Town in 1998 when remedial teacher Maurita Weissenberg realised that her housekeeper’s grandson was struggling to read. She decided to help by reading with the little boy at Observatory Junior School. From that small beginning the Shine Centre has grown to an organization of more than 200 volunteers who work with children in inner city schools.
The IJR’s Reconciliation Award recognises organisations, individuals, and communities, who through their daily work and attitude to life promote national and communal reconciliation that enable South Africans from diverse backgrounds to learn live together and to accept the dignity of their fellow citizens.
The 2007 award was extended to the community of Masiphumele for their attempts to reconcile a community torn by xenophobic violence. Other recipients include Tim Modise for getting the nation talking; to Pieter Dirk Uys for getting the nation laughing – primarily at itself; to Sibongile Khumalo and PJ Powers for helping South Africans to understand and appreciate one another’s culture through music.
The choice of an educational institution for the 2008 award was, according to the Institute, informed by the recognition that inequality remains one of the most obstinate obstacles to reconciliation, and such inequality is continuously being reinforced today by an underperforming education system. For this reason all South Africans ought to salute the contribution of civic responses, such as Shine’s and like-minded organizations, not only to improve the life chances of our children, but also to the creation of a more equitable society.
As such, Dr. Fanie du Toit, Director of the IJR, noted that the Reconciliation Award was extended to Shine because it “address structural inequalities in the education system and contributes the building of a more inclusive society.” “Another aspect of Shine’s successful programme”, said Du Toit, “is that is demonstrates the leading role that community-based initiatives will have to play in order to improve access to quality education for all learners.”

Many of Shine’s volunteers are retired teachers and other professionals. At least 700 children have taken part in the programme that offers one-on-one mentoring to the children at four centres in primary schools in the Western Cape. Two hundred children are part of the programme at present.
Says Weissenberg: “We partner with schools and use their infrastructure. Volunteers spend one-on-one time with the children during their literacy period in the morning. They spend time playing word games with the children, helping them with pared reading, doing ‘have-a-go’ writing where the child is encouraged to write, and shared reading where the child gets to pick a book they are interested in and read.”.
According to her, special relationships grow up from the interaction between volunteers and children. “It’s like a little love affair”, she says. Through their interaction with the children, barriers are broken down and there are benefits for both the volunteers and the children. So many people want to make a difference and Shine offers them a chance to do this”, said Weissenberg.