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).
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.
The project is funded by 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
Evolution and lessons learnt
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 of20 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’sreading 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.
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.
- 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.
Looking to the future
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.
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.