Reading isn’t just a fun activity or a pastime. Books connect us to a world outside of our own experiences, they inspire us with ideas that spark the imagination and ultimately, help shape who we are.
This is certainly true about the powerful effect that reading has on children — developing their concentration, as well as improving their vocabulary and language skills.
“Children need to be taught that reading is enjoyable," Ben Rycroft, head of communications at Nal’ibali tells Global Citizen. "Reading to children builds a child’s vocabulary, it develops the bond between a parent and child, it stimulates a child’s imagination, and shows them how adults read and how books work.”
Nal’ibali is a Cape Town-based non-governmental organisation that promotes reading for fun as a family and community activity.
In South Africa, where children aged between nine and 10 were found to have poor reading skills by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Studies (PIRLS) global assessment report of 2016, cultivating a culture of reading is becoming increasingly urgent.
As the PIRLS report revealed, 78% of South African learners in grade 4 can’t read for meaning.
Rycroft adds: “Every child's self-esteem grows with each experience of successful interactions through positive words. When children can read for themselves it automatically builds their confidence in school and in life.”
Four months ago, Global Citizen launched a call urging the government to improve the education system through our #RaiseTheGrade campaign.
So far, more than 20,200 Global Citizens have signed the petition calling on the Department of Basic Education to expand the Early Grade Reading Study package across the nation by 2021.
And while these actions will go a long way in helping South African children experience quality education, expanding the Early Grade Reading Study package is one part of the solution.
“Reading for meaning helps children navigate life’s challenges and to go on to have successful school and career journeys while making a dignified and positive contribution to society,” Rycroft adds.
The PIRLS report also revealed that 62% of South African learners don’t have access to school libraries, while 46% of South African learners don’t have classroom libraries.
A study conducted by the South African Book Development Council concluded that 60% of South Africans live in households that don’t have even a single book, while only 5% of adults who live with children read to them, or with them.
“There are a variety of barriers that mostly start with not being exposed to printed reading materials in the mother tongue from a young age,” says Rycroft.
“Many children are products of parents and caregivers who received poor education themselves, and don’t know how to encourage the practice of reading and haven’t been exposed to books or reading materials themselves," he continues. "Libraries are sadly very underutilised, books are prohibitively expensive.”
He says the general lack of published stories in mother tongue languages is another barrier.
“Children who learn to read in their mother tongue before a second language, are more likely to comprehend more complex topics," he says. "It also helps build children’s confidence to be able to make the transition to English being the language of instruction from grade four onwards.”
Besides making reading accessible and easy to relate to, reading in the mother tongue also helps preserve languages and cultures.
“[It’s] especially important given so many schools encourage the use of English over mother tongue [languages]," adds Rycroft.
With this in mind, Global Citizen launched #TurnThePage, an offline reading campaign and series of book drives that are aimed at galvanising South Africans to donate books to communities in need.
The books that are collected as part of #TurnThePage will be donated to Nal’ibali, among other organisations.
“There are a number of ways to promote a culture of reading that can be found on the Nal'ibali website," says Rycroft. "It starts with being aware of the literacy problem in South Africa, and the willingness to get involved and take action.”
As well as donating books through #TurnThePage, Rycroft suggests “starting or joining a reading club, sharing stories at a clinic, and at creche or Early Childhood Development Centres.”
He adds: “You can donate books and reading materials to reading clubs and schools; volunteer to read at an old age home; read to children regularly; and celebrate literacy days like World Read Aloud Day.”
Global Citizens can also join Nal'ibali's volunteer network of FUNda leaders and the FUNda Sonke loyalty programme to take part in monthly literacy activities for which you can earn points, be recognised, and rewarded with prizes.