Lack of access to reading material and books remains one of the biggest challenges in bridging the gap of illiteracy in South Africa. According to educational experts, fixing the literacy crisis would require the coming together of multiple players, and this is why three NGO's and the Liberty Community Trust have partnered to lend a helping hand.
Research shows that 78% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning and close to one-third of children from rural areas are functionally illiterate. The majority of these children will leave the school system without the skills they need to succeed in life and will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.
The South African school system is failing its children, and this is why reading interventions must be introduced in the early years, well before children begin school in Grade R.
By starting at the early childhood development (ECD) level, the effects of such interventions will be meaningful and long-lasting, felt throughout children’s school years and long into adulthood.
Yizani Sifunde (isiXhosa for ‘Come, let’s read’) is a newly launched literacy project aimed at addressing the literacy problems in the Eastern Cape. Funded by Liberty Community Trust and implemented in partnership with three prominent literacy NGO's – Nal’ibali, Book Dash and Wordworks – its focus is on supporting children in ECD centres along with their parents and educators in order to reawaken a love of reading and story sharing.
Children who are exposed to great and well-told stories in languages they understand are motivated to learn to read and write for themselves. Further, children who regularly read for pleasure perform better in the classroom, regardless of their family’s income or social standing.
In 2021 Yizani Sifunde will be supporting 40 ECD centres in Queenstown, East London and Tsholomqa and injecting 100 000 brand-new culturally relevant storybooks in isiXhosa into these communities.
The project will also be supporting practitioners in making use of a literacy-themed learning programme and providing practical training and materials to caregivers. Further, additional training will be provided to interested community members on running extra-mural reading clubs.
“Every one of us is a storyteller in some form or another, and reading and storytelling could well turn out to be South Africa’s secret weapon. Reading and sharing stories with young children is vital in laying the language foundations they will need to learn to read and write later on. It can also help with cognitive and emotional development. But best of all, taking time out to read and share stories with our children simply feels good!” says Yandiswa Xhakaza, Nal’ibali CEO.
The Yizani Sifunde initiative hopes to encourage regular reading and storytelling in home and community settings to help enhance children’s oral and written language skills as well as the confidence, understanding and literacy practices of all those involved. Ultimately, it aims to significantly change the life trajectory of the young children it supports and remind parents, educators, and community members of their powerful and authentic teaching roles.