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Reading revolution reaches deep rural schools

By Michael Cekiso, Story Powered Schools Project Manager

What’s the best way to improve a child’s school results across the board? What if there could be one magical intervention that could skyrocket a child’s progress in every area of their lives? What a dream it would be for funders. What a gamechanger it would be for learners! As it turns out, there is a gamechanger: books.

Policy experts, educational specialists, and statisticians all agree: a child who reads and is read aloud to, is a child who learns. In fact, reading proficiency is the number one indicator of future academic success greater even than a child’s economic background or school choice. But what does this mean for South African children? The short answer is: a challenge.

Books are expensive and disposable income is tight. What’s published depends on what makes publishers the most profit and how many children’s stories have you seen in isiZulu or isiXhosa recently?

These are predominantly the mother tongues of children living in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal who are now well into the swing of 2018 and have either just started or are back at school. What that looks like for millions of children across SA is peak hour traffic jams, homework, and lost lunch boxes. But for children living in the rural areas of these provinces – it looks radically different.

In the Eastern Cape, for example, the lack of basic facilities is heart-breaking. Only 26% of schools in the province have a library, and only 10% of learners may borrow books. It will be no surprise then to discover that school results are just as poor and compounded by poor economic circumstances. Many children are attending school on an empty tummy, do not live with their parents, and live in homes without toilets. South African children simply aren’t getting the basic tools they need to make the leap out of poverty.

If access to books makes the difference between a child who can and can’t read, in one generation it makes the difference between a country that is economically thriving and one which is caught in a poverty trap. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that small actions can have big results, if they are sustained.

2017 was the first year of our pilot project, Story Powered Schools, which introduced the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign’s proven approach to literacy development to 240 rural schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. These are schools that have been given a powerful injection to move progress forward, schools that have been given books and literacy support.

Based in areas that would otherwise receive almost no developmental opportunities, these schools were identified by the Department of Basic Education who brought District Education officials on board to help with a roll-out that included principals, teachers, and community members. We employed 48 ‘Story Sparkers’ and eight Literacy Mentors from local communities to keep fanning the flames of our big idea.

How did it work? Every school that participated received five hanging libraries, one suited for each grade from R to 4. These mobile units each housed 150 exciting storybooks for children in their mother tongue as well as English. And, every fortnight, schools received copies of the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment supplement packed with bilingual stories and activities to keep any reading club motivated.

Although supplements are available in newspapers across the provinces, they often don’t reach deep rural areas, but, putting story power back in to the hands of communities, we made a commitment to take supplements to them and well over half a million were donated and delivered last year.

It doesn’t end there. Through continued face-to-face support, we made sure that each school received weekly visits from our Story Sparkers, who in turn were paid a stipend. Not a huge amount, but in many cases, it made a significant difference in their lives. Some financed studies through UNISA, others were finally able to purchase that two-bedroom house for their families. It’s a project that has knock-on benefits for the whole community.

And, although it’s hard to benchmark direct benefits – that depends on schools having the time to participate in far more monitoring and evaluation activities than they have resources for – what we have seen has been encouraging. Not one school we approached opted out.

Close to 100 000 children were reached last year and 799 reading clubs were launched by school children, parents, and community members. Schools reported a significant decrease in absenteeism and late-coming, and children became excited to attend schools where there were steady streams of new stories to feed their minds and imaginations. Teachers also noticed an increase in confidence with children telling stories and discussing ideas in class. Stories, it surprises none of us to hear, make children excited.

And that was just our first year! 2018 sees the graduation of our 2017 school group, and the intake of 244 new schools across the Umgungundlovu and iLembe districts of KZN and the Bizana, Lusikisiki, Mount Ayliff and Maluti districts in the Eastern Cape where we aim to keep changing the narrative of our schools, communities, and nation one story at a time.

Story Powered Schools is a Nal’ibali initiative endorsed by the Department of Basic Education and made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information about the campaign or the power of reading and storytelling, visit: and

Johannesburg extends library hours in 11 regional libraries

By Nonhlanhla Sifumba, member of the Mayoral Committee, Community Development Department

The City of Joburg’s Executive Mayor, Cllr Herman Mashaba, pronounced in the 2017 State of the City’s address that the City will extend library hours to some of its regional libraries in line with demand, and to redress the imbalances of the past.

The programme was launched by the Executive Mayor accompanied by myself, the Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development, on the 3rd of June 2017.

Since the extension of the operating hours from June 2017 to date, 11 908 more users have benefited. Libraries are a fountain of knowledge, and with the smart initiatives of the City, users have access to Wi-Fi, connecting them to internet learning resource and potential economic opportunities.

The extended library hours are in line with this administration’s priority to serve the forgotten people of Johannesburg by extending facility operating hours.

The operating hours have been extended to 11 libraries across the City:

• Diepsloot: Region A;
• Ivory Park North: Region A;
• Randburg: Region B;
• Florida: Region C;
• Protea North: Region D;
• Jabavu: Region D;
• Sandton: Region E;
• Yeoville: Region F;
• Ennerdale Extension 9: Region G;
• Orange Farm: Region G; and
• Johannesburg City Library: Region F.

Our libraries will now operate for additional 4 hours from 13h00 – 17h00 on Saturdays. This is to allowing working residents, who often have no time to visit our libraries, access to these facilities.

The extension also targets students from previously forgotten communities who need to study, but find their home environments are not conducive to productive studying over the weekends.

The Library Information Services (LIS) directorate, under Community Development in the City, is also exploring the possibility of increasing the number of libraries that offer extended hours in the following areas:

Kaalfontein: Region A;
Matholesville: Region; C
Paterson Park: Region E; and
Driezik, Lehae and Naturena: Region G.

World Read Aloud Day: over one million children reached!

World Read Aloud Day was celebrated on the first of February 2018 and South Africans certainly made a significant contribution to the 24 hours dedicated to reading aloud to children, thus encouraging a love of books and ensuring an increase in literacy achievements.

Nal’ibali – the reading for enjoyment campaign – called on South Africans to contribute towards creating a South Africa where children read for enjoyment, meaning and understanding, emphasising the value of reading aloud to children:

Reading aloud to a child is one of the most important things a parent and caregiver can do with children. Not only does it build a strong language foundation, it introduces vocabulary and can help develop empathy, curiosity and critical thinking.This World Read Aloud Day we’re calling on YOU to add your pledge to read to the children in your life.

This year’s story was ‘The final minute’ written by Zukiswa Wanner (available to download in all 11 official languages) and over one million (1 294 345, to be precise) children countrywide were treated to a reading!

Viva, World Read Aloud Day, viva!

Katherine Paterson se Bridge to Terabithia in Afrikaans beskikbaar!

Jess Aarons se grootste droom is om die vinnigste in sy graad te hardloop. Hy het die hele somervakansie geoefen en kan nie wag om sy klasmaats se gesigte te sien wanneer hy hulle almal wen nie.

Maar op die eerste skooldag is ’n nuwe meisie dapper genoeg om die seuns aan te durf en boonop almal uit te stof.

Dis nie ’n baie belowende begin vir ’n vriendskap nie, maar Jess en Leslie Burke word onafskeidbaar. Saam skep hulle Terabithia, ’n magiese koninkryk in die woud waar hulle twee as koning en koningin heers.

Dan is daar eendag ’n verskriklike tragedie.

Eers wanneer Jess hierdie tragedie begin verwerk, besef hy uiteindelik hoeveel krag en moed Leslie vir hom gegee het.

Wenner van die Newbery-medalje.

“Roerend en met groot impak.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Hierdie storie is merkwaardig ryk en diep, pragtig geskryf.” – The Horn Book
Katherine Paterson is die outeur van meer as 30 boeke, insluitend 16 kinder- en jeugromans. Sy is twee keer bekroon met die Newbery-medalje: in 1978 vir Brug na Terabithia (Bridge to Terabithia) en in 1981 vir Jacob Have I Loved. Sy is onderskeidelik in 1998 en 2006 bekroon met die Hans Christian Andersen-prys en die Astrid Lindgren gedenkprys.

Kobus Geldenhuys het in 2015 die Elsabé Steenbergprys vir vertaalde kinder- en jeugliteratuur in Afrikaans ontvang vir Cressida Cowell se Hoe om jou draak te tem: Hoe om Drakonees te praat (Protea, 2014), en in 2016 is hy met die Alba Bouwerprys vir kinder- en jeugliteratuur bekroon vir sy vertaling van Michael Morpurgo se Hoekom die walvisse gekom het (Protea, 2015).


Book Dash is looking for a project manager!

Book Dash gathers volunteer creative professionals to create new, African storybooks that anyone can freely translate and distribute and their looking for a project manager!

Children in South Africa need more books, but they cost too much purchased from publishers. The cheapest books have no publisher – then the only cost is printing. So our participants do the work of publishers in a single day. After that, anyone can get print runs sponsored and put finished books into the hands of children.

We believe every child should own a hundred books by the age of five. In South Africa, that means giving 600 million free books to children who could never afford to buy them. Every day we lose, more children grow up unable to read and write well, and to enjoy the worlds that books open up.

If you’re passionate about encouraging – and ensuring – a love of reading and literature among South African children, look no further – click here to apply!

Book Bites: 4 February

Published in the Sunday Times

Trade SecretsTrade Secrets
Short.Sharp.Stories, Tattoo Press, R240

As Yewande Omotoso remarks in the foreword, the stories in Trade Secrets range from the futuristic to the bad old days: “You’re a fighter pilot, you’re a young girl getting a haircut, suddenly you know magic…” But a decent collection also emphasises the connections among the stories, like a good mixtape. Trade Secrets does. My favourites were Mishka Hoosen’s powerful take on gay longing and girlhood, Wedding Henna; Kamil Naicker’s story of intimacy and euthanasia, The Liberator, and Darrel Bristow-Bovey’s funny/terrible tale with a wheelchair as its axis, An Act of God – his best fiction yet. Buy this book. – Diane Awerbuck

In the Midst of WinterIn the Midst of Winter
Isabel Allende, Simon & Schuster, R285

Despite its improbable plot, the novel’s concerns with the plight of displaced people make it a worthwhile read. It is literally and metaphorically midwinter for the three protagonists. During the worst snowstorm in memory, in Brooklyn in 2016, academic Richard Bowmaster collides with a vehicle driven by Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. Although the damage is minimal, the situation is serious: Evelyn has taken the car without the permission of her employer; and there is a corpse in the boot. At a loss, Richard calls on his Chilean colleague Lucia Maraz for assistance. The trio, all of whom have harrowing backgrounds, contrive to solve the problem. – Moira Lovell

Robin Sloan, Penguin Random House, R295

As good if not better than Sloan’s debut novel Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. This is a book hug, set in San Francisco, one to chase away the new year blues. Lois Clary is a coder for a robotics company. Working constantly and not taking care of herself, Lois and her colleagues – most of them men – survive on Slurry, a nutritive drink like Soylent. She is unhappy, lonely and depressed until she meets two brothers who own an illegal eatery. They feed her sourdough and spicy soup. When they’re deported, they leave her their sourdough starter. It’s more alive than any starter and this begins Lois’s odyssey into the mysterious and warm world of food. – Jennifer Platt @jenniferdplatt

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