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Policy brief/strategy document: “Let’s Get South Africa Reading”

Key strategies, case studies and recommendations to grow a culture of reading in South Africa that all of us can get involved in:

"You cannot divorce the literacy development of children from the quality of the schooling system. In a comprehensive review of the quality of education in South Africa, Spaull (2013) makes the following observation:

“…the vast majority of South African pupils are signifi cantly below where they should be in terms of the curriculum, and more generally, have not reached a host of normal numeracy and literacy milestones. As it stands, the South African education system is grossly inefficient, severely underperforming and egregiously unfair”

Serious efforts to address the inefficiencies of our schooling system and to improve the quality of education are critical – and Spaull makes important policy recommendations in his report. This document, however, seeks to highlight opportunities that all of us can get involved in to reduce the significant loss in potential in the short term.

It is worth remembering that resources are not our greatest obstacle. South Africa spends 20% of its national budget on education – in real terms, that is more than almost every other country in sub-Saharan Africa – yet its outcomes lag behind many of its poorer neighbours. It is time for us to “work smarter” with what we have. This calls for cooperation and alignment – for an ambitious, concerted and sustained national effort. While government plays a critical role, ensuring that every child can read well needs our entire society to get on board: business and civil society; publishers and the media; retirees and youth; teachers, parents and children. There is no quick fix to get South Africa reading; it requires commitment and collaboration. Yet while the task ahead of us is enormous, we already know a lot about literacy interventions that work. If we build and innovate on existing research and experience, we can make major strides, now, for children who otherwise face a bleak future.

This document outlines five broad strategies in which we can all get involved to get South Africa reading. It is supported by case studies of what has worked in South Africa and elsewhere, and concludes with specific and practical actions that we can take to rewrite South Africa’s literacy story.

The strategies are:

·         Invest heavily in early language learning from birth

·         Exponentially increase access to books and stories, especially in African languages

·         Promote reading for enjoyment – both in and out of the classroom

·         Crowd communities into education

·         Run a sustained, large-scale mass media campaign"

Read more in the policy brief: Lets Get South Africa Reading -Strategies involving all of us

Dowload the policy brief here


Research brief: Addressing South Africa’s Education Crisis: The Promise of Mother-Child Booksharing

Mark Tomlinson from the Stellenbosch University shares the highly encouraging findings of the impact evaluation of their book-sharing training programme for South African families:

"Given that children’s abilities at the point of school entry are such important predictors of their progress through school, there is a strong case for intervention in the preschool period. Indeed, studies of interventions delivering such early cognitive stimulation in high-income countries consistently show substantial and sustained benefi ts in terms of developing child language and cognitive functioning.

There is now a compelling body of evidence from high-income countries that children’s language development and literacy skills are facilitated by book-sharing with a caregiver, beginning in infancy. And there does seem to be something very special about the process of book-sharing.

We have developed a book-sharing training programme for delivery to South African families. This involves caregivers meeting in groups (usually between three and five caregivers and infants) with a trainer on a weekly basis over six to eight weeks."

Read more in the research brief: Addressing South Africa’s Education Crisis: The Promise of Mother-Child Booksharing



Research brief: Free Voluntary Reading: the most powerful tool we have in language education

"Free voluntary reading, or 'reading because you want to', is the missing link in language education. The research comes to the conclusion that it is not only the easiest way and the most pleasant way of developing literacy; it is the only way. Direct study of language, for example spelling and vocabulary exercises, provides nowhere near the competence needed for accurate writing and efficient, fluent reading. Free voluntary reading must be encouraged in school (for a very creative way of integrating self-selected reading and the study of literature, see Miller, 2009) and must be made possible for children of poverty. The first step in doing this is making sure large numbers books are easily available, which means a serious and committed investment in libraries."

Read more in the research brief: Free Voluntary Reading - the most powerful tool we have in language education



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