Rally To Read has enjoyed remarkable success since it was launched in 1998 to counter the collapse in education at rural primary schools. Picture: SUPPLIED
Rally To Read has enjoyed remarkable success since it was launched in 1998 to counter the collapse in education at rural primary schools. Picture: SUPPLIED

Hundreds of thousands of SA schoolchildren can read and write because of the generosity of SA motor companies and the automotive community, including their customers.

Now organisers of a national programme to revive neglected rural primary schools are asking them to support a renewed campaign to protect children’s future.

Rally To Read has enjoyed remarkable success since it was launched in 1998 to counter the collapse in education at rural primary schools. Continuing success is threatened, however, by Covid-19.

The average 14-year-old rural child has a reading age of seven — rendering them unable to continue to high school and condemning them to a life of illiteracy and poverty. Being so far from population centres, their schools have “fallen off the map” of cash-strapped provincial education departments. It’s a simple case of out of sight, out of mind.

Rally To Read schools, however, quickly make up the literacy gap and their children are able to progress to high school and beyond. Andile Ndlovu, a pupil at a Rally primary school in an impoverished area of Mpumalanga, recently began an actuarial science degree at Wits University after getting seven matric distinctions at the end of 2020.

How does Rally To Read do it? By equipping schools with classroom libraries, stationery, sports equipment and all the other goods that urban schools take for granted. But it doesn’t stop there. Through NGO, the Read Educational Trust, it also provides teacher training and monitoring of education standards. Each school is supported for three years, until it can stand on its own feet again.

Progress has been remarkable, but now Covid-19 threatens the next generation of rural children. A report by the National Income Dynamics Study-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, says children at no-fee primary schools (many of them rural) across SA lost 60% of their potential 198 school days in 2020. In Mpumalanga, grade 4 children missed 76% of lessons in their home language and 48% in English as their main secondary language. In other words, they will struggle to communicate not only in their own communities but also in the world at large.

That’s why Rally To Read organisers are targeting the automotive fraternity for renewed support. In the early days of the programme, motor companies, their suppliers and customers provided much of its impetus. The main organising partner was the McCarthy Motor Holdings Group, with which many companies had a direct relationship.

Its then-CEO, Brand Pretorius, who founded Rally To Read and still chairs the national organising committee, says: “It was inspirational to see arch-rivals in the competitive vehicle market supporting a common cause — the language, literacy and communication skills of disadvantaged learners at remote primary schools in deep, rural SA.

“Rally was an outstanding example of competitors collaborating to achieve a common goal, for the good of all.”

In those days, sponsors joined weekend-long, off-road rallies to deliver their goods in person, in partnership with other sponsors. That part of the programme has been suspended because of Covid-19 but there is still scope to visit schools for private delivery.  

Rally To Read operates in five provinces: the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and the Western Cape. Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota are among motor companies that continue to support the programme, but Pretorius hopes the wider automotive community will help avert the rural education crisis.

A full sponsorship of R36,000 will provide a school with classroom reading books, stationery and teacher training for one year. Organisers will also welcome a half-sponsorship of R18,000.

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

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