Classroom library corners feed young minds
International Day of Literacy: Promoting and improving reading for every child in South Africa
Engaging the youngest children in reading – learners in the foundation phase from Grades R to 3 – is the most effective way to introduce the value of storytelling and developing minds. Children who read early are most likely to improve their learning ability across their educational journey.
But there is much work to be done. The recent global ‘Progress in International Reading Study’, using data from 2021, highlighted that 81 per cent of Grade 4 learners in South Africa are not able to read for meaning. This means these children, the majority of 9 and 10-year-olds in the country, face a significant barrier to academic progress and self-expression.
The recent Department of Basic Education and UNICEF South Africa study on ‘Caregiver knowledge, attitudes and practices on play-based learning in children from birth to 6-years old’ also noted that some 40 per cent of households surveyed do not have any books a home.
“Access to books at home and schools is the first barrier that needs to be overcome to promote and engage children in reading.”
As part of UNICEF South Africa’s work with the Department of Basic Education, supported by the LEGO Foundation, library corners are springing up in classrooms across the country to enhance reading in the foundation phase. Some 1,200 classrooms in 158 primary schools across five provinces, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, North-West, Eastern Cape and Limpopo now have shelves and trolleys stocked with more than 63,000 books.
“These library corners will go a long way to at least improve the opportunities for children to start their reading journeys. Teacher and parental engagement are also critical to ensure that children understand and absorb the stories they read.”
International Day of Literacy is celebrated annually on 08 September and this year’s theme focuses on ‘Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies.’
UNICEF South Africa’s broader work to improve access to and the quality of reading and early childhood development more broadly includes a series of programming:
- Encouraging parents and caregivers to engage in play with their children as an essential early stimulation and child development approach through the roll-out of the ‘National Parenting Programme’.
- Improving and strengthening reading and leadership capacity among children and educators through the ‘REALS SA’ programme funded by the European Union.
- Scaling up the ‘Foundation Phase Initiative’, or six bricks approach, that uses manipulatives to enhance learning through play in the foundation phase, from Grade R to Grade 3 in public schools.
- Rolling-out the ‘ECDmobi App’ that provides parents and caregivers, ECD practitioners and teachers with a one-stop shop to support children’s learning through play with easy-to-follow activities.
- Empowering and building the capacity of ECD practitioners through the ‘Powerful Learning Around You’ training course.
UNICEF reiterates its thanks for the generous support provided by the LEGO Foundation, European Union and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation towards strengthening play-based learning, early childhood development, foundational learning and improving the quality of education across South Africa.
This support is critical to help accelerate progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education and lifelong learning and to reflect on the role of literacy in building more inclusive, peaceful, just, and sustainable societies.