Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) is South Africa’s reading-for-enjoyment campaign. It makes use of reading and storytelling in home languages as well as English to support children’s literacy learning and school success. It is one of the biggest literacy-based nongovernmental organisations in South Africa. It was initiated in 2012 by the DG Murray Trust and the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA).
1. When was the project initiated, and how did your organisation get involved?
Nal’ibali was established by PRAESA and the DG Murray Trust in 2011 and launched to the public in 2012. It emerged out of two decades of research on multilingual education conducted by PRAESA under Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Carole Bloch, their successful development of a model for community-based reading clubs, and the experience of the loveLife behavioural change campaign, which sought to reduce the incidence of HIV among young people.
Nal’ibali quickly achieved notable scale and momentum. PRAESA, which implemented the campaign from its inception to 2015, received the 2015 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) – the most prestigious prize in its field – for its contribution to children’s multilingual literacy development.
In 2016, the Nal’ibali Trust was born and Nal’ibali became an independent entity, with PRAESA continuing as a research and content partner.
2. What is the aim of the project?
Nal’ibali is built on the simple logic that a well-established culture of reading can be a real game-changer for education in South Africa. Literacy skills are a strong predictor of future academic success in all subjects – and children who regularly read and hear engaging stories, in languages they understand, are well equipped and motivated to learn to read and write. A significant body of research reinforces the link between reading for pleasure and improved outcomes for children.
Nal’ibali seeks to create and nurture the conditions throughout society that support children’s development as readers. These are:
- KNOWLEDGE AND AWARENESS: Adults and children understand and value reading for enjoyment, and know how to nurture it.
- OPPORTUNITIES TO READ: Frequent opportunities to read, write and hear stories exist in a variety of accessible spaces.
- READING ROLE MODELS: Adults share books and stories with children, and encourage others to do the same.
- ACCESS TO READING MATERIAL: Adults and children have access to a wide variety of relevant engaging reading material, in all South African languages.
3. What needs/issues does the project address?
In South Africa, children are not reading well. The results of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessment placed South Africa last out of 50 participating countries. The study also revealed that 78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language.
There is a severe lack of reading material in South African schools and homes. Fifty-eight percent of households have no leisure books, and only 7% of homes have more than ten books. Just 17% of schools have a stocked library, and many contain unsuitable books, are locked most of the time, or do not allow children to take books home. Books in African languages are particularly scarce: while South Africa has eleven official languages, 41% of children’s books published between 2000 and 2015 were in English, 24% were in Afrikaans, and only 35% were in the other nine African languages combined.
Reading culture is also limited. Only 35% of adults who live with children read aloud to them. Few children have the opportunity to choose what they want to read or take books home from a school or library. This ring-fences reading as a technical decoding task – not an exciting, joyful and personally relevant activity.
4. What are the project activities? Where are they implemented?
In its aim to grow a reading culture in South Africa, Nal’ibali recognises the power and potential of communities in literacy development, and the importance of reading and writing in home languages as a basis to improve economic and social equality in a country where indigenous languages have historically been marginalised.
At its core, Nal’ibali works with partners and individuals across the country to set up and run a growing network of more than 4 000 reading clubs for children. Reading clubs are relaxed, informal spaces where children can enjoy books, stories and other literacy-related activities such as songs and games in their home languages as well as English. Nal’ibali trains and equips individuals and organisations to run reading clubs. The sustainability of these clubs is supported through mentoring, resource provision and partnerships.
Nal’ibali also runs digital and mass media campaigns. More than 7.4 million people listened each week to its most recent radio story season on SABC stations, and it recently launched a national billboard campaign.
It also does significant work distributing reading materials. Most notably, it has distributed more than 33.8 million copies of its bilingual newspaper supplement since 2012. Each edition includes three stories (two can be cut and folded to make a book), activity suggestions for teachers and caregivers, motivational messaging and information about reading, news from the Nal’ibali network, and games and activities for children. Stories celebrate traditional storytelling and local authors, and reflect readers’ lived experiences. All content is bilingual (English and another language), and it is currently available in eight of the eleven official languages. Nal’ibali has also distributed nearly half a million books, and its website has 646 stories in all eleven languages.
5. Who do you partner with on this project?
Key partners include:
- Government: We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the national Department of Basic Education, and work with provincial and district education departments to implement reading clubs across the country. We also work with various municipal entities.
- Media partners: Key partners include Tiso Blackstar, a media company that prints and distributes Nal’ibali’s bilingual newspaper supplement, and SABC Education, which has aired three seasons of radio stories in all eleven South African languages between 2013 and 2018.
- Distribution partners: In addition to Tiso Blackstar, the Post Office distributes supplements to reading clubs and the general public. Publications including the Sunday Times Express and Sunday World, the Daily Dispatch and The Herald, carry our content to help us reach a broader audience. In the past, we’ve also worked with Wimpy, Pick n Pay, Boxer, NAPTOSA and Free4All.
- Non-profit organisations: Nal’ibali works with a national network of partners, who receive training and reading materials from Nal’ibali and run reading clubs in schools, pre-schools, after-care programmes and other youth development initiatives.
- Research institutes: Nal’ibali is working with NORC at the University of Chicago on a randomised controlled trial of its Story Powered Schools project, and recently worked with JET Education Services on an external evaluation of its bilingual reading materials. Nal’ibali continues to work with PRAESA, its founding partner, on reading-material development, and training curriculum and content.
- Funders: Funding partners include the DG Murray Trust, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the First Rand Empowerment Foundation (FREF), Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) and the HCI Foundation.
1. What is your NPO’s approach to monitoring and evaluation of this project?
Key lessons for scaling up include:
- If you intend to scale up, design for this from the start – including thinking about costing.
- Don’t be afraid to start small. Conduct formative research and course-correct along the way.
- Ensure you have the necessary infrastructure in place for scaling up – including financial systems, human resources, data collection and management, and analysis and evaluation.
- Ensure regular check-ins with staff to remain connected – especially with remote staff.
- Build in a way that draws on existing infrastructure, resources and networks in communities.
- Guard against losing authenticity as scaling up occurs.
More lessons are documented on the research page of our website: www.nalibali.org/research
2. What is your NGO’s approach to monitoring and evaluation of outcomes?
Nal’ibali’s monitoring and evaluation framework is aligned to its theory of change. We regularly collect key campaign data from field staff, and via two major in-house telephonic surveys each year: one to re-register reading clubs that launched in previous years, and one to “take the pulse” of a random sample of Nal’ibali network members.
Data collection is designed to allow disaggregation of key indicators – thus enabling us to conduct analysis not only about outputs (e.g. the number of registered reading clubs), but also indicators of quality that serve as proxies for outcomes ((e.g. what percentage of trained people launch reading clubs, how often reading clubs meet, how long they have been running/sustainability, child-to-adult ratio, gender equality, availability of reading materials). Outcomes are also collected through qualitative research, external evaluations and, most significantly, change methodologies.
3. What are the key social outcomes of the project i.e. how have the lives of the beneficiaries changed and what evidence do you have of this?
We track our social outcomes through monitoring, evaluation and research. Key social outcomes achieved (as of mid-November 2018) include:
Increased access to, and use of, reading material:
-Nal’ibali has distributed 34.8 million bilingual newspaper supplements, 466 253 books, and 1.4 million story collections and magazines since 2012. Also, 646 free stories are available on its website.
-An external evaluation of the supplement showed that supplements are well used in a variety of ways, enabling the reading behaviours we seek to support. 95% of organisations and 18% of newspaper buyers that receive the supplement use it. Of those who use the supplement, the most common reading behaviours include:
- Reading aloud to children (90% of organisations, 72% of newspaper buyers),
- Adults and children reading together (88% of organisations, 70% of newspaper buyers), and
- Children reading on their own (88% of organisations, 67% of newspaper buyers).
-Bilingual reading supplements are increasing availability of reading materials in homes: 85% of organisations that receive supplements let children take them home.
A network of reading clubs:
-4 353 reading clubs reaching 126 829 children are active in all nine South African provinces and 84% of these clubs meet at least once a week. The reading clubs give children regular, enjoyable opportunities to learn.
A network of motivated, skilled adults reading aloud to children:
-22 060 people have been trained on reading for enjoyment.
-At least 8 959 people are currently running or volunteering at reading clubs.
-More than 17 000 people are part of Nal’ibali’s broader network of literacy activists (known as “FUNda Leaders”).
Mass media and participation:
-In 2018, Nal’ibali mobilised South Africans to read aloud to 1 295 449 children on World Read Aloud Day – an 80% increase on 2017.
-In 2018, 7.4 million people listened to Nal’ibali stories on SABC radio stations each week.
-Community activations and events have reached more than 200 000 people.
Case study: The story of Literacy Mentor Cokisa Sicwebu
Who doesn’t love a good story? Sometimes it’s impossible to hold children back, and cries of “Again! Again!” can keep a reader tethered to their seat. This is the magnetic pull of reading for enjoyment –and it can be a force strong enough to cause children to change schools! At least it did in the case of Kholeka Ndlovu.
In South Africa, the June-July school holidays span a full three weeks and can be a long and lonely time for children whose parents are away or working. However, with the right support, the holidays can be a great opportunity to show children just how enjoyable and satisfying reading can be, and provide them with an extra opportunity for a literacy boost.
Cokisa Sicwebu, a Literacy Mentor in Ugu district on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, used the holiday period to engage the children at the rural schools she regularly supports, and invited the children of the surrounding community to join in too. This simple invitation represented an incredible opportunity for children who live outside the reach of a public library and the entertainment and resources typically available in urban settings.
Cokisa’s week-long programme was packed full of the stories, songs, games and other literacy-related activities that allow children the opportunity to feel cared for, supported and engaged while building their listening, reading and writing skills, and keeping them out of trouble.
It proved to be a great success. Filling their heads with stories that left their minds and imaginations brimming, Cokisa and her team reinvigorated the children’s appetites for stories – a powerful building block in their literacy development, and a motivator for them to learn to read and write themselves.
For Kholeka, who attended the holiday programme as a guest, the desire for stories had grown so strong that when she returned to her school – which was not part of the Story Powered Schools project – she couldn’t bear the thought of a future without stories! Knowing that stories and the reading-for-enjoyment approach would form part of her daily curriculum, Kholeka urged her mother to transfer her to a school that was part of the project.
For a parent living in one of South Africa’s poorest areas, this was a substantial request and would require investment in a new school uniform, additional transport and extra paperwork. But Kholeka’s mother did it and she is now in Grade R at Nkukhu Primary School, and in the best position to receive the literacy boost that will help her succeed in school and life. While the Story Powered Schools project works with children from Grade R to Grade 7, it primarily focuses on Grades R to 4 to ensure that young children develop the rich and deep language foundation they need in their mother tongue to transition successfully to English as a language of instruction at school in Grade 4 and use it to learn and engage with complex concepts.
KwaZulu-Natal has the highest level of poverty in the country, and the literacy scores of Grade 3 learners in this province are below the national average. Unemployment is estimated at 60% or more. This early introduction to stories and literacy can be the intervention that makes all the difference in children’s future academic attainment, as well as their employment opportunities and income levels.
Evolution and lessons learnt
1. How has this project evolved over time?
Since its inception in 2012, Nal’ibali has entrenched its position as a thought and action leader for children’s literacy development. A few key milestones are:
- It has grown from a team of 20 working in four provinces to more than 170 staff and 17 000 network members.
- The bilingual reading supplement is now available in eight languages, up from three in 2012.
- In 2016, with USAID funding, it launched its ambitious Story Powered Schools project, which is working in 720 Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal schools over three years. This more than doubled the organisation’s budget and more than tripled its staff.
- Its training curriculum and partnership model have been continually refined, based on research and evaluation.
- In 2018, an evaluation of its bilingual reading-for-enjoyment newspaper supplement found that, overall, Nal’ibali’s reading materials are high quality, well used and much appreciated by South Africans.
- The supplement also took third place in the African Union’s continent-wide Innovating Education Prize.
- A randomised, controlled trial of the Story Powered Schools project, which looks at its causal impact on children’s reading outcomes, is underway. The trial is also examining teachers’ attitudes towards reading, and their own reading behaviour and classroom practices; children’s attitudes towards reading and reading behaviour; and access to and use of reading materials in schools and homes.
2. What have the challenges and success factors of this project been?
- Lack of quality reading material in African languages.
- Distribution. It’s easier to print reading materials than distribute them, especially in rural areas (where delivery can cost twice as much as reading materials).
- Volunteerism. South Africa does not have a strong culture of volunteerism. In building a social movement, Nal’ibali asks people to run reading clubs and read aloud to the children in their lives, but in some cases the expectation or desire for a stipend has been an obstacle to sustainability.
- Entrenched social norms. Many South Africans believe it’s most important for their children to learn to read in English, and undervalue the importance of learning to read in your mother tongue first. Even where books are available, very few schools let children take them home.
- Rapid growth. When Nal’ibali received USAID funding, its staff complement grew from 33 to 117 people in less than six months. This brought growing pains as well as opportunities. Ultimately, it pushed us to strengthen our systems and policies.
Success factors include:
- A flexible model. Reading clubs can take place anywhere, anytime – and even if you can’t run a reading club, Nal’ibali offers many ways to be part of its network.
- Positive reception. Community responses to Nal’ibali’s brand, reading material and offering have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s easy to get people excited about reading!
- Simple calls to action. Events like World Read Aloud Day, when Nal’ibali mobilised South Africans to read aloud to nearly 1.3 million children in 2018, have made large-scale participation fun and easy and raised awareness of Nal’ibali’s mission.
- Partnerships. Media and distribution partners have extended our reach and amplified our message across the country, and programmatic partners provide support to reading clubs.
- A dedicated, passionate team. Nal’ibali works hard to recruit passionate, motivated and inspirational people to work with partner organisations and schools.
3. What are your plans for the future of this project?
By 2023, we expect to see more than 500 000 children actively involved in reading clubs. We believe this will be a “tipping point” for our movement to propel itself forward, setting a new social norm. We will spend the next five years strengthening our model based on empirical evidence, and lobbying government to adopt and support the model nationally.