As 2017 wound down, South Africa heard news that broke our collective hearts. A report by Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS) alerted us that, in case you missed it, 78 percent of South African fourth graders cannot read for meaning in any language. This, despite education being one of the ministries that consistently gets a bigger chunk of the national budget annually. So where are we going wrong?
Nal’ibali, the national campaign for reading for enjoyment, thinks they may have a solution that goes beyond throwing money at our nation’s literacy crisis. In addition to providing free multilingual reading materials on their website for children, and encouraging the formation and support of reading clubs throughout the country, every year since 2013 they have encouraged South Africans to join the rest of the world in a global campaign entitled World Read Aloud Day (WRAD).
‘Reading aloud has been shown to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading,’ according to the National Academy of Education and National Institute of Education.
And, every year, since Nal’ibali started their own World Read Aloud Day activities, a South African author has been commissioned by the campaign to write a special story that is translated into all 11 official SA languages and that the country can read aloud to their children, their neighbours’ children, and children at libraries on the day.
Each year, the numbers of those who take part in the campaign has increased with the numbers rising steadily from 13,401 in 2013 to an incredible 719 627 last year. In 2017, Nal’ibali was lucky enough to have Buhle Ngaba, Mohale Mashigo, Hlubi Mboya and Sindiwe Magona reading aloud to some of the children.
WRAD 2018 is taking place on Feburary 1st and I am honoured to be the writer contributing this year’s story and I am coming home so that I can read it to 1 000 children in Soweto. My story The Final Whistle, about a football-loving future Bafana Bafana player and his best friend who hope to lead South Africa to winning the World Cup championship, will be the story being read across South Africa this year. It begins, ‘I am going to score two goals today Dad, you will see,’ Neo said as he put on one of his football boots. ‘And I will assist in three goals, uncle’ Priya who had just come in with her little brother Rahul added.
The aim this year is to have at least 1 million children participating in World Read Aloud Day. I ask all public figures, educators, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and all South Africans of goodwill, to take some time from their day on February 1st to commit to reading aloud to the children in their lives. Illiteracy will not end through taking part in the campaign, but it is a good way to start reducing it. More so if those of us who take part in World Read Aloud Day commit to do it more frequently. For my part, I commit to avail myself to read aloud to children at least once every two weeks during the four months I will be home from February 1 until May 31st. So, alert your local reading clubs and libraries if they need me to do so. I would like to play my part to ensure that when PIRLS does the next report on literacy, there are more children who can not only read, but read for enjoyment. I hope you, fellow South Africans, will join me.
Zukiswa Wanner is a literacy advocate and author of the children’s books, Jama Loves Bananas (Jacana 2011) and Refilwe (Jacana 2013). She’s also written six books for adults, one of them award-winning. She can be contacted via Facebook: @Zukiswa.Wanner
To join Nal’ibali’s World Read Aloud Day celebration, visit www.nalibali.org or www.nalibali.mobi where you can download the special story and pledge the number of children you will be reading it to. Members of the public are also encouraged to share pictures of their read-aloud sessions on the campaign’s Facebook and Twitter feeds: @NalibaliSA, or by using the hashtag ##WRADChallenge2018, on the day.