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PRAESA director on the intersecting domain of children’s literacy and literature development in rural South Africa

Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) director, Dr Carole Bloch, recently published a column in the Sunday World on the Nal’ibali campaign, aimed at developing multilingual children’s literature:

We are all aware that increasing attention has been focused on the development of reading culture and on children learning to read and write in South Africa. It is a complex domain, with education-pedagogy and culture – literature, rubbing shoulder to shoulder. Yet the potential of their intersecting roles has not actually been fully appreciated. In particular, the significance of multilingual children’s literature development for the accelerated emergence of cohorts of young motivated and competent readers and writers needs urgent attention.

As any young child starts exploring print, irrespective of the setting they happen to be in, there is every good reason why they should be offered great story after story to fuel their imaginations and desire to read and write. This fact is backed up by a vast body of global interdisciplinary evidence, as is the fact that a very large percentage of these stories should be in the languages they already know and use to maximise understanding and thinking. There is further evidence, including brain research, which reveals how even the youngest children need to explore and use print at the same time as they learn the complex technical and phonetic skills. The dearth of a rich African language written treasury of stories is a daily impediment to the literacy learning progress of millions of South African children.

A parent in rural KZN getting acquainted with the books now available in her children’s schools
Photo: Rogan Ward

At a recent seminar in Cape Town, a diverse group of about 50 people met recently to reflect together on this intersecting domain of children’s literacy and literature development. Initiated by PRAESA with support from IBBY SA and PEN SA, practitioners, literacy activists, editors, publishers, policy makers and academics told success stories, raised issues and identified ‘blockages’ in what Elinor Sisulu dubbed a ‘literacy ecosystem’.

Impressive progress which has been made by a host of organisations, including Nal’ibali, Puku, Fundza and Bookdash to advocate for, create, translate distribute, enable and ensure the appropriate use of relevant stories and storybooks among those who spend time with young children. Somehow this foundational work has not yet been integrated into the broader societal transformation and educational decolonisation project. Nor have the different sectors of government and business found a way to give consistent support. Two already widely known points suffice to illustrate –the one is that only something like 5% of parent read to their children and the other is that fewer books are being bought in the system, and libraries are still being closed.

In the following weeks, specialists will focus on some of the key issues which cause both hope and despondency as we endeavour to transform children’s opportunities for learning. These issues, raised at the seminar, are ones with direct impact on the present lives and future prospects of children across South Africa.

Reading and telling stories with children in their home languages provides them with a strong foundation for language learning and increases their chances of future academic success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, for to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit:


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