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In 1974 Molteno Institute for Language and Literacies (formerly known as The Molteno Project), based at Rhodes University and funded by a grant from the Molteno Brothers Trust from which it derives its name, began an extensive evaluation of English teaching in primary schools where African languages were spoken. The investigation conducted by Prof Len Lanham and a primary school headmistress, Ms Miriam Dakile, revealed that learners were failing to read in English largely because they were failing to learn to read in their mother tongue.

Breakthrough to Literacy

In response to the research report, the University bought the rights to adapt and translate a highly successful British programme, Breakthrough to Literacy (BTL). BTL was initially developed in isiXhosa and piloted in the former Transkei. The startling successes of BTL experienced in some 30 schools with Grade One learners able to read and write freely before the end of their first year at school led to increasing requests for its implementation by other education departments across the country, South Africa.

Decisions to expand were not lightly taken by Molteno Institute for Language and Literacies Board as it became very clear at the outset of the pilot programme that teachers needed to be thoroughly trained to implement BTL effectively.

Bridge to English

The accelerated acquisition of mother-tongue literacy and the quick mastery of reading and writing skills in the first year of schooling through Breakthrough provided a solid foundation for the introduction of English in the second year. In August 1976, just two months after the Soweto uprisings, the Grade Two Bridge to English course was produced by the Molteno Fellow, Vic Rodseth.

Since then, Bridge courses have been extended to Grade 6. The series includes a Grade One version which is largely oral/aural.


Within South Africa

By 1988, 4 000 teachers had been trained and were using the Breakthrough materials with success, and through them, 2½ million pupils had been reached. With schools in all provinces following Molteno courses, necessitating the training and classroom-based support of the teachers, the continued use of Grahamstown as the Institute’s headquarters became impractical. In 1992 the Institute’s headquarters moved to Johannesburg. By 1993 regional offices had been established in 5 provinces.

Beyond the South African Borders

In the mid-1980s Breakthrough was incorporated into the Botswana curriculum and placed in all primary schools. 1993 saw the piloting of the Institute’s courses in Namibia. Through a process of phased handover, Namibia had incorporated Breakthrough and Bridge into its curriculum and was running the programme since 2002.

The Ministry of Education in Zambia piloted Breakthrough in Icibemba in 1998-1999. Since then Breakthrough has been adapted into four more languages and has been rolled out as a Ministry programme to all schools in the country.

At the request of the Ugandan Ministry of Education Breakthrough to Literacy was translated into three languages, Luganda, Alur and Dhopadhola and a pilot funded by UNICEF was launched in 100 classrooms earlier in 2001. A further two languages were piloted in 2002 and in 2005 – 2006 Breakthrough was translated into the four languages of the strife-torn areas in the north of the country for a roll-out in 2006 and 2007.

In 2001 Breakthrough was adapted to Sesotho for Lesotho. Molteno Institute for Language and Literacies assisted the Ministry of Education through a trainer training process. By 2004, Breakthrough was being implemented in all primary schools in the country.

A pilot in two Ghanaian languages was implemented in 2004 following which there has been a wider roll-out under a USAID-funded initiative to 140 schools in 20 Districts.

In 2004, the Malawi Ministry of Education embarked on a pilot programme and in 2006 they considered the possibility of a roll-out which was constrained lack of financial support from sponsors.

A pilot in Angola, involving 7 languages commenced in the middle of 2006 and completed in 2007 with huge success.

By 2020 Breakthrough had reached more than 50 million children across the continent, and we are still counting.


As a research-based organisation, we developed a graded reader series in Vula Bula in 2011. Vula Bula is the first graded reading programme in African languages where progression from level to level is based on the phonics of each language.

Our Business Model

Our business model hinges on two strands, namely professional development of teachers as well as content development. We train teachers on how to teach early literacy through the home languages of learners, and how (pedagogy) to transit to English as a first additional language. We coach and mentor teachers on the content of early literacy as well as how literacy is attained at the lowest level of the education.

Although we focus primarily on Grade RR, Grade R and Grades 1 – 3, to Grade 3, we are very conscious of the proper transitions that happen between the various grades including hardcore early childhood learning that includes private ECD centres.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Free access to early learning content remains our major concern as an organisation. Hence we provide our Vula Bula graded reader materials free of charge and downloadable from our website.