Nal’ibali – the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign – has set a new read-aloud record in South Africa. For the past eight years, the campaign has been celebrating World Read Aloud Day by calling on members of the public to help them read a single story out loud to children across the country in their home language. This year, Nal’ibali received pledges from thousands of South Africans committing to read to 3 004 896 children.
“Reading aloud is a fundamental building block of literacy. It is how we introduce books and reading to children and motivate them to learn to read and write for themselves. A basic foundational skill which underpins all school learning, reading is what we need to be focussing on right now if we want to help children catch up on the schooltime they lost due to COVID-19 last year,” says Yandiswa Xhakaza, Nal’ibali CEO.
The pandemic has also affected the format of the annual read-aloud campaign, prompting exciting new reading behaviours amongst South Africans. Typically, Nal’ibali works with partners to host widespread read-aloud events, but lockdown and social distancing regulations changed its focus to encourage one-on-one or small group readings between caregivers and children at home instead.
“We were cautious about this new approach, but ultimately, it the type of reading behaviour that we want to see,” says Xhakaza. “Parents are their children’s first teachers and supporting a simple routine of reading using our free literary resources means they can nurture a lifelong habit of reading with their children.”
Nal’ibali is excited to have seen thousands of individuals and organisations pledge to read with their children this World Read Aloud Day. It is encouraging members of the public to either join them, either by starting a reading routine with their children, or sustaining one by accessing its free children’s stories from its data-free website, www.nalibali.org, or by WhatsApping ‘Stories’ to 060 044 2254. The campaign also offers free training on reading and sharing stories with children at www.nalibali.mobi.
While it is not yet possible to know the total impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in South Africa, Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, has estimated that more than 300 000 children dropped out of primary school in 2020. This, coupled with the literacy crisis South Africa has been grappling with for many years, means that South Africans need to do what they can to support their children’s school learning, whether at home, at school or in the community.
Concludes Xhakaza: “The message is clear: we all need to get involved to ensure that our children have a fighting chance in school and life. Supporting basic literacy skills and providing emotional support through the simple act of reading aloud is an easy, sustainable solution that everyone must do.”