Quality education begins at home: read Jenny Hobbs’s advice on fixing South Africa’s literacy crisis
The literacy crisis among South Africa’s youth is worse than expected. It was recently announced that eight out of 10 grade four pupils still cannot ‘read at appropriate level’. Dr Nic Spaull of Sellenbosch University is quoted saying that an inability to read properly means ‘many pupils never get a firm grasp on the first rung of the academic ladder and fall further and further behind.’
Co-creator and former managing director of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (and author!), Jenny Hobbs, composed the following piece on the necessity of nurturing a love of reading among children, including helpful tips on encouraging a reading culture in South Africa:
Here’s the important thing about quality education: it starts with you, parents and caregivers, from the time babies are born. Talking and singing to them, giving them words and songs and stories, is the best way to ensure that they learn to talk and read confidently. These are the building blocks of education and success in life.
• Parents, gogos, caregivers and child minders: talk and sing often to babies and toddlers, passing on the magic of spoken words and singing.
• Speak from the beginning in your mother tongues, adding words and songs from other languages (especially English) as they grow. Languages are easily picked up by small kids and you will be giving them invaluable free skills.
• As soon as they can sit on your lap, tell them stories and read to them from books, magazines or catalogues, letting them turn the pages – however clumsily! – to discover the excitements on the next page.
• Encourage them to talk, chat and tell their own stories. Teach them the songs you sang and the games you played, family history and traditions. Children who own many words talk easily with friends and adults.
• Take them as young as you can to libraries to enjoy exciting, different books and choose some to bring home. Municipal and community libraries are free, and librarians are always ready to help with advice.
• Give children books as presents. Ask at the library for the late, great Chris van Wyk’s Ouma Ruby’s Secret, which tells the story of how his loving grandma bought him books in second-hand shops, always asking him to choose and then read them out loud to her. He only realised when he grew older that she couldn’t read – like so many elders who were denied education.
• Seeing parents read newspapers and books is inspiring for children. Keep books in your home and make reading a cool thing to do.
• All reading is good reading. Look for book sales and street vendors selling comics and well-priced picture and story books. Visit a library to access the online South African book sites for children and teens.
• Enrol children as soon as possible in early learning centres to expose them to new skills and the first formal steps to reading.
• Fight harder and more fiercely for schools with libraries that actively promote reading and a culture of independent learning.
Note: The government mandates weekly library lessons in schools which all receive library allocations, but random bookshelves are not enough. Libraries need assistants to help readers and control the books. For more information, see the downloadable school library booklet at http://www.flf.co.za/schools/.
• Link older children and teens with the FunDza Literacy Trust for daily reading on their cellphones.
• Readers should recommend books they’ve enjoyed and circulate personal libraries in their communities. Record who has borrowed each book by taking a cellphone photo with them holding it.
Surely it’s time for VAT on books to be abolished – it’s a tax on learning!
Online sites for South African children’s & young adult books:
Book Dash: http://bookdash.org/
Children’s Book Network: www.childrensbook.co.za
Quotes about reading to live by:
It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all children in the world may experience the wonder of books, and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories. – Nelson Mandela
The key to a healthy society is a thriving community of storytellers. Stories are what really make us human. – Franco Sacchi
Reading books at home is an important part of the early development of children during which they confront in a pleasurable activity those human passions of love and hate, of ambition and desire, of change and hope. – Jonathan Jansen
If we want to break down barriers between ourselves across race, linguistic and cultural lines, we must promote reading. Fiction forces you to live in other people’s worlds. It develops our empathetic capacities … it can and does help to build bridges. Reading will help us to humanise each other. In a time of violence, we must spread the word about the power of books to make South African life a little easier. – Eusebius McKaiser
A book can change your life. You can read yourself out of poverty. – Annari van der Merwe
Books not only change the mind, they can change the course of society. – Jonathan Jansen
You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture – just get people to stop reading them. – Ray Bradbury