Highlighting the critical lack of books available in all African languages to children in South Africa, Nal’ibali, the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, has produced a powerful public service announcement that illustrates the breakdown of books available per language and calls for support for African language reading materials for children. The video has been developed in recognition of International Mother Languages Day on Sunday, 21 February.
“All children deserve to learn to read, and to be read to in the language that they are most familiar with and comfortable in. In this way their experiences of books and stories become far richer through greater comprehension of the tales within. This is a crucial component in building children’s motivation to read, a desire which we know has significant implications for their future learning success,” explains Jade Jacobsohn, Managing Director of the Nal’ibali campaign,
“Without this, many African language speaking children are likely to continue to find learning to read and write a burdensome and difficult task. The accelerated growth and use of a multilingual children’s literature is a sign of appreciation of and care for the cultural and educational interests of all children. It also offers the chance to embrace diversity and grow common understandings”, adds Carole Bloch, Executive Director of PRAESA (the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) cofounder and literacy content and quality assurance partner of Nal’ibali.
What motivates children to read? Research has shown that choice and relevance are two of the most critical components. When children can choose from a wide selection of books and stories that they understand, inspire them and are relevant to their lives, they are more likely to want to read.
However, a recent report issued by SAPnet (The South African Publications Network) shows that of the total number of books published in South Africa between the year 2000 and 2015, 40% of these were in English, 24% in Afrikaans and just 6% in isiXhosa and isiZulu. The remaining official languages were represented with percentages smaller than six. Most notably, the percentage of books for isiNdebele is just 1%*, an alarmingly small portion of books given the population breakdown per language.
It is also important to note that these figures do not take into account the number of books that are school textbooks, as this would further reduce the number of books available.
“We want our children to grow up to be strong and powerful readers, and to have the best chance of success in the classroom and in the workforce. We need to increase quantity and access to literacy materials in all languages. We need to start by promoting the importance of mother tongue languages and celebrating them,” concludes Jacobsohn.
Using languages which people understand deeply plays an important role in social and economic development. African languages must be accorded cultural capital. Nal’ibali would like to thank SAPnet and the Cape Town Central Library for their kind support in the production of the video and the Nal’ibali campaign.