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Continuing to build on its ambitious goal of eradicating illiteracy among children under the age of 10 years, the Volkswagen Community Trust hosted its fourth annual literacy conference this week.

The conference convened education stakeholders and experts from across the country at the Volkswagen PeoplePavilion in Uitenhage on Thursday. Under the theme “Read to Succeed”, delegates and speakers shared success stories and challenges facing education in South Africa.

Education remains one of the most critical priorities to the Community Trust. The Trust has in recent years established five literacy centres at schools in Uitenhage, with the aim of ensuring that each learner in Uitenhage is functionally literate and able to read with understanding by the end of Grade 3.

Speaking at the conference, Professor John Aitchison – who was called upon to review the Community Trust’s programmes – underlined the importance of this goal. “Approximately 78% of children in grade 4 in South Africa cannot read,” said Aitchison. “That is a devastating finding. I am incredibly impressed by the work being done by the VW Community Trust. If education is done properly and resources are available, there is no reason a child shouldn’t be reasonably literate by the end of grade 1.”

Nicci Hayes of Rhodes University said the Community Trust would need to focus on the role of teachers going forward, to maximise the impact of their programmes. “We have to get to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is the teachers,” said Hayes, adding that teacher training was key to ensure the success of literacy centres.

The Community Trust has partnered with the non-profit organisation Funda Wande to train teachers specifically with the purpose of empowering them to teach children to read. The Trust has also formed several partnerships in order to improve the quality of, and access to, education in Uitenhage.

The conference marked the 30th anniversary of the Community Trust, which was celebrated during a gala dinner on Wednesday 13 November. The two events saw the celebration of the Trust’s achievements spanning three decades and looked to the future of the Trust.

“Looking into the future, the mission of the VW Community Trust is to contribute to creating a healthy, thriving and resilient community,” said Thomas Schaefer, Volkswagen Group South Africa Chairman and Managing Director. “In its 30 years of existence, the Trust has continued to be responsive to the community’s needs whilst remaining relevant to the current realities of our communities.

“The Community Trust continues to grow and evolve. This is clearly reflected in the range of investments made in the past three decades in early childhood development centres, teachers and nutritional programmes, bursaries, local economic development and job creation projects. We are a caring company that always puts its people first, and as such we remain committed to supporting the wellbeing and upliftment of the communities where our employees live,” Schaefer concluded.