Eight out of every 10 nine-year-olds are unable to read for meaning, writes Somikazi Deyi.
Early language development is rooted in the interactions children have with their parents, caregivers and peers. It is with this in mind that the statistics are unsettling: eight out of every 10 South African nine-year-olds are unable to read for meaning in any language. Statistically speaking, that’s an alarming 78%. If nothing is done, these children will grow up unable to participate effectively and fully across many aspects of life, such as the economy, business, media, politics and health.
And, since reading underpins all school learning, it is critical that we start thinking of strategies to instil a culture of reading across the various demographics of South Africa and reach all our linguistic landscapes.
Without reading, children’s minds can stagnate and their ability to imagine better prospects for themselves isn’t developed. They are denied the chance to see the opportunities that life may present to them and the capacity to see the progress they might be making.
A reading country is a successful country. This is highlighted when reading about successful people across the globe. These people did not just become successful; they read widely about their interests, inculcating a passion to know more, read more and understand more.
We can confidently argue then, that reading is the capstone in building great minds. But, children need to adopt a culture of reading from a young age if they are to become fully literate, make meaning of their everyday lives and increase their cognitive abilities.
Encouraging and supporting children to attend libraries, be part of reading programmes and book clubs, or simply to retell the stories they have been reading presents them with some opportunity to practise critical thinking, engage in in-depth discussions and grow their academic prospects.
When children participate in this way, reading becomes a culture – something with which they can voluntarily engage. If this culture is taught early, children become confident in reading in open spaces and among others.
Not only does the reading process exercise the brain, encouraging it to absorb knowledge effectively, it also encourages a sequential trail of thought about the topic at hand. And research shows a strong link between reading and academic success.
By creating and distributing children’s stories in different languages, reading-for-enjoyment campaign Nal’ibali paves a way for young children to become greater thinkers and contributors to the world. With the launch of its new loyalty programme, Funda Sonke, the adults and caregivers supporting children in their literacy journeys can get additional books and other related rewards. The aim is to see not only more children becoming great readers and excelling at school, but more young people and adults becoming literacy activists.
The name Funda Sonke (isiXhosa for “everyone read”) is a declaration to all of us that reading, and reading together, is powerful. Through reading together we ensure that spaces are opened to share knowledge contained in the books we come across, and to discuss, interpret and see its relevance in our everyday life.
For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, to sign up to be a Funda leader and join the Funda Sonke loyalty programme, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit nalibali.org and nalibali.mobi. You can also find Nal’ibali on Facebook and on Twitter at nalibaliSA.
Deyi is an African languages lecturer in the School of Languages and Literatures at the University of Cape Town
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