The problem

ABC for Life has seen that learners from impoverished communities experience a “learning gap” that becomes entrenched during the first three years of primary school. At Sentinel Primary, Hout Bay – as in many other primary schools across South Africa – struggling learners often pass onto the next grade although they have not mastered the minimum skills or academic results required. This places them at a disadvantage as they move through school. With up to 60 learners per class, teachers struggle to give these learners the extra attention and support they need to thrive. Afrikaans learners tend to struggle even more than their English-speaking peers. The result is that these children fall behind and often drop out of school completely, they are then at risk of turning to negative influences which further weaken our community.

The solution

At ABC For Life, we “bridge” primary school learners who are 1-2 years behind in English, Maths, and/or Afrikaans back to an age-appropriate level within 12-18 months. We reintegrate children back into mainstream schooling and prevent school dropout. Our approach is unique because we catch and counter so-called “learning deficits” before they accumulate. Over twelve years our research-based evidence shows that our “catch-up” and “teaching at the right level” approaches really work and reintegrate children back into the school system, giving them a chance to succeed and experience academic success versus failure.

Our method

We have developed our own teaching materials that have been used successfully nearly fifteen years. These materials can be aligned to any curriculum or examination system. We nurture a learner’s emotional wellbeing, create a safe space by affirming their value, and treat them with empathy and respect.  We never have more than ten learners per session which allows each child to receive a much more personal learning experience.

We have a “before and after” test, and our learners are evaluated after every five hours of teaching to ensure that the skills covered have been mastered. This process ensures that students experience success in the program at regular intervals, and remain motivated and confident. Our teachers receive intensive training and are monitored on an ongoing basis.


At the beginning of the school year, Sentinel Primary School refers learners to us who are failing in the key skills areas of English, Maths, and Afrikaans. We carry out pre-tests to find out the level of each learner.

Based on their ability, learners are put into small groups of between 6 and 10 children who participate in two or three additional 45 minutes classes per week. At the end of the year, we carry out post-tests to determine how learners have caught up. We compare these results to the Department of Education’s Assessment. If they achieve 50% or more, we return the students to their correct grade, but learners who are not ready to return participate in another term of the program. Children who are returned to mainstream education are tracked continuously to monitor their progress.


In partnership with local volunteers, we improve learners’ reading level which leads to an improvement in academic achievement. Reading helps improve concentration, cultivates a love of books, broadens children’s worldview, and opens critical and analytical thinking skills. We use graded reading books in two half-hour sessions each week, which totals 38 hours of reading time per year. Our reading sessions are one-on-one or paired sessions, so each student receives a great deal of personal attention, just what they need to achieve a significant improvement in their reading skills.


Our After School program is run by volunteers. We give homework support and also use educational games and toys to help the students learn through fun. Whilst doing this, we are also keeping the children safe and off the streets.


Our students who achieve less than 20% in their grade level are given daily one-on-one support in reading and writing.


ABC for Life is spreading its wings and reaching out to more learners in the Western Cape by rolling out its program material and training educators from different schools. We teach to the whole class English as an additional language, using our specialised material and work booklets that we create.