A light at the end of the tunnel

2012-03-07 00:00

HAND-WRINGING about how kids don’t read, won’t read — even can’t read — is not going to solve South Africa’s literacy problem. However, an organisation called FunDza has come up with a possible solution that is cool and interactive, and designed to appeal to local youngsters, particularly those who neither have access to books nor the money to buy them.

FunDza takes books, including Mbu Maloni’s Nobody Will Ever Kill Me (reviewed above) and makes them accessible on its Mobi site, where kids can download them on MXit. And if reading isn’t cool, MXit is.

FunDza has commissioned a series of teen novels, set in a fictional township school called Harmony High. They donate the books — 1700 copies to date of the first three in the series — to libraries at around 60 schools, with numbers growing all the time. Each book has been run on MXit, a chapter a day.

Currently, Nobody Will Ever Kill Me is appearing in that format, and the responses are very enthusiastic: “Cnt wait 4 the nxt part” is one, while another [translated from SMS language] is: “Oh Mbu, you are talking about me and to me.” Short stories are also published in the same way, and there is a platform for writing by the kids themselves.

I asked Ros Haden of FunDza, which is a non-profit organisation, relying on sponsorship to fund its activities, how she persuades the struggling publishing industry to allow their books to be used this way.

“They can see that this will reach teens who would never otherwise be able to get hold of books. The responses are so genuine, and the publishers can use them in their publicity campaigns. It is a way to encourage new readers,” she says.

UKZN Press has entered enthusiastically into the project, and has agreed that, rather than pay royalties to them, FunDza should make a contribution to Mbu Maloni’s education fund.

Studies have shown that teens who read for pleasure are more successful later on in life. And whether they are doing their reading via MXit or in more conventional ways, the important thing is the reading.

Inquiries: visit www.fundza. co.za/mobi and www.fundza.co.za

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