Plan to develop a reading culture

NEXT week Friday scores of South Africans who are committed to the promotion of quality education will embark on a 24-hour fast.

They will do so under the aegis of Equal Education Initiatives' campaign for school libraries.

Equal Education is a non-governmental organisation campaigning for the provision of adequate infrastructure in schools. The initiative is based on the constitutional principle that all South Africans have the right to equal education.

The fasting comes on the heels of the recent announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga of the changes made to the 2009 National Curriculum Statement.

Announcing the curriculum review, Motshekga highlighted the fact that the new system would focus on redressing one of the major pitfalls in the implementation of Outcomes-Based Education - lack of sufficient resources.

She said that in order to achieve the government's education targets it was important to develop and distribute adequate learning and teaching materials.

"This project is a result of the injunction by the Presidency to provide resources to teachers and learners to improve learner performance in literacy and numeracy skills," she said.

The Equal Education initiatives are in tandem with the government's commitment in this regard.

However, its members also argue that if the new curriculum is based on the principles of lifelong learning, learner-centred approaches, independent and critical thinking, then there is also a need to ensure that pupils have access to well-stocked libraries run by professional librarians.

Most importantly, they also believe building libraries will go a long way in redressing the dire situation whereby South African pupils have been found to be unable to read - when compared with their international counterparts.

The situation is further compounded by the lack of libraries in schools.

A recent report by the National Education Infrastructure Management System has revealed that only 8percent (1837 schools) of public ordinary schools have functioning libraries; 13percent (3384 schools) have an unstocked library space, but the vast majority, 79percent, (19239 schools) have no physical library space, nor a book collection.

The report has also revealed that that most of the 8percent of the schools charge fees and paid for libraries themselves.

This, unfortunately, perpetuates a situation where children from poor communities, who are the major beneficiaries of the no school fees, would under-perform due to lack of resources.

To redress the dire situation, Equal Education has called for:

  • A library for every school with full-time professional librarian;
  • Legislation calling for each school to allocate 10percent of its learning and teaching support materials funding for updating and maintaining the school library collection;
  • Workshops for teachers, parents and members of the schools governing bodies to deal with the role of the library and its place in the school;
  • A weekly library period built into the curriculum for every class in every school;
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the school library roll-out to ensure its effective implementation, and measure its impact;
  • Developing and adopting a national policy on school libraries as well as an implementation plan.

On its part the government has made certain commitments towards redressing the situation.

For example, as part of the new curriculum review, Motshekga has made a commitment to secure an extra R2billion for the next two financial years to address the infrastructure backlog in schools.

This commitment was made in tandem with her recent assertion that school libraries play a crucial role in the development of a culture of reading, information literacy, providing access to much-needed information and providing safe spaces for learning.

The Gauteng has also announced that it would establish 790 primary school libraries as part of its literacy strategy.

The Western Cape education department, on the other hand, has committed itself to building school libraries in 654 under-performing schools by the end of the 2011/12 financial year.

But, as Equal Education Initiatives has pointed out, there are still some causes for concern.

For example, the government still has to adopt National Guides for School Libraries and Information Services. This was supposed to have happened by last month.

The guidelines will go a long way to develop mechanisms to assist schools, districts and provincial departments in their budget allocation for libraries and librarians.

This will alleviate a situation whereby the establishment of school libraries remains sporadic and dependent on individual initiatives by institutions.

The government still has to adopt the minimum standards for school infrastructure. These will apply to all schools whereby the minimum standard for adequate infrastructure would include having a library with a full-time librarian.

Failure to implement these provisions will make whatever commitments by the government become hollow.

Most importantly, such failure will undermine the drive to improve the state of education.

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