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Age no impediment to Edna Freinkel’s accomplishments

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SUZANNE BELLING

Educator, author, counsellor and trainer, Edna is the founder and consultant of Readucate, an NGO that fights crime through prevention by teaching teachers how to train children to read, so they do not drop out of school and into crime.

Readucate also rehabilitates criminal offenders by training those who are literate to teach their illiterate colleagues a multidisciplinary approach to reading and life skills.

She herself has taught hundreds of children and adults to read and has lectured and run workshops locally and internationally.

Mother of four, grandmother of 11 (with one great-grandchild), selflessness and helping others is in her genes.

It was her mother, Rebecca Ostrowiak, who  pioneered teaching methods she had researched over 30 years. Edna became involved in helping Rebecca write down her method.

Rebecca finally published her book series, “Teach any Child or Adult to Read”, in 1965.

Edna says that between 50 and 70 per cent of schoolchildren can barely read and millions of adults are either totally or functionally illiterate.

The Readucate course empowers a literate person to teach children and adults too. Its elements include reading, writing, spelling, comprehension, efficient memorising, successful studying, developing self-confidence and thinking courageously. 

Innately spiritual, Edna refers to “Educator’s Privilege” daily, a book compiled from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheerson, and “Empowering Thoughts”, a motivational religious booklet by Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Schwartz.

“But it was my mother who was my inspiration. She believed we are made in G-d’s image and can’t be disabled and hopeless.

“Her solution to problems was to ‘wear warm brooks, take Phillips Milk of Magnesia and say your prayers’.

Edna carried her mother’s credo with her throughout her years in Durban, while in boarding school, and in Germiston, where her supportive late husband Lionel was the district surgeon, later becoming a pathologist.

Edna has a BA through Unisa. Her psychology professor helped her to work out a theoretical and practical method for her pupils to reach a pass mark of 70 per cent.

“If they could do this, then they could subscribe to world literature.”

Her course had an exponential effect, with each teacher training many people.

In 1969 she opened the Rebeca Ostrowiak School in Germiston to “prove the efficacy of the method”.

Finances were proving difficult and in 1981 Edna was tempted to close the school.

“No!” said Lionel, “Not while you are serving the community.”

She finally sold the school in 1992 to one of her teachers. She continues to work fulltime for Readucate and says: “I can’t retire as long as there is one child or adult who cannot read.”

At the ceremony, where Edna received her honour on November 7, Annelize Wepener, chief executive of CEO Global, a business and professional services company that focuses on identifying Africa’s leading talent and arranged the awards, said: “There are tremendously inspirational stories at the core of each winner’s professional and personal life. Lifetime achievers have often been absolute pioneers in their field.”

Among Edna’s many other awards (at least 11) are the Counsellor of the Order of the Baobab, awarded by President Thabo Mbeki in 2004 for “lifelong dedication to the development of specialised learning methods for the learning impaired in South Africa”, and, in 2010, a Unisa outstanding educator award.

Edna is also the holder of Rotary’s prestigious Paul Harris Award and was a nominee for the Jewish Achievers Awards earlier this year.

  

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