Local, regional and international studies have highlighted South Africa’s reading crisis, some even going as far as describing it as a “cognitive catastrophe”.
The South African government has identified improvement of reading skills among primary school learners as a national priority that requires a national coordinated approach. In support of this, President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation Address on 20 June 2019, noted that:
“If we are to ensure that within the next decade, every 10-year-old will be able to read for meaning, we will need to mobilise the entire nation behind a massive reading campaign. Early reading is the basic foundation that determines a child’s educational progress, through school, through higher education and into the workplace”.
“All other interventions – from the work being done to improve the quality of basic education to the provision of free higher education for the poor, from our investment in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to the expansion of workplace learning – will not produce the results we need unless we first ensure that children can read.”
Interventions in several focus areas have been identified to achieve the goal of reading for meaning. These include system capacity, family literacy focusing on parents and communities, teacher development, learner support and learner/teacher support materials (LTSM). Access to resources was highlighted as an urgent need for the provision of age-appropriate access to content in indigenous languages with appropriate fiction and non-fiction content that appeals to children and encourages them to read. This intervention identifies catalogues as a crucial element in the efforts to increase access to reading resources.
The fourth of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science is to save time for the reader. This means that libraries should offer and organise their collections in ways that enable readers to find what they want as easily and efficiently as possible.
Existing information on children’s books in indigenous languages, especially at Early Childhood Development (ECD) and foundation phase, is not easily accessible. There is no central, easily accessible source of data on South African children’s books, not only from publishers but also non-commercial content produced by non-profits.
This pilot project speaks to a need for catalogues of children’s books in indigenous languages to enable consumers to identify and access the best books in their languages.
The project is a collaboration between UNISA (mainly Departments of Information Science and African Languages), the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, Biblionef and IBBY. The aim of the project is to produce catalogues in all the indigenous languages, both digital and print, for books and material for Early Childhood and Foundation phases.
Catalogues developed through a collaborative process involving experts from respected institutions will have more value and weight than anything produced by a single organisation.
The Editors-in-Chief for the catalogue series will be the Chief Librarian, Mr Kepi Madumo and Professor Mpho Ngoepe, Chair of UNISA’s Department of Information Science. The catalogue team is made up of three cataloguers - Mr Lethabo Ledwaba and Mr Philangani Sibiya from UNISA, and Ms Zandile Mthethwa from the NLSA. The team is overseen by Dr Khomotso Lerumo, NLSA Director of Bibliographic Services and Collections Management, and Ms Nokuthula Musa, Executive Director: Core Programmes
Developing a central catalogue for each language will be a monumental task and experience has taught us that it is better to take a modular approach based on existing capacity and resources. We will therefore start with the isiXhosa catalogue and based on the lessons learned, we will be able to move on to the other languages. These catalogues will be developed based on targets set by the National Reading Coalition (NRC) in 2015 to have 20 home language picture story books for reading for enjoyment with content and illustrations likely to engage children; 20 age-appropriate home language titles for emergent literacy and reading for enjoyment per class for Grades R and 1; 40 age-appropriate home language titles for independent reading and reading for enjoyment per class for Grades 2 and 3; and, 8 graded reading home language anthologies (basal readers) per class for learning to read for Grades 1 to 3 (NRC target p.21). These catalogues will consist of books, metadata, reviews and possibly lesson plans for each title.
Puku has identified the editorial team of isiXhosa language and literacy specialists who will be responsible for curating content from the central catalogue to produce catalogues by category, e.g. by author or by theme. This team will be introduced through a webinar titled: Ikhathalogu yeeNcwadi zesiXhosa zooMuntuza (ezaBantwana): Making Children’s Books Accessible to All, to be held on 22 April 2021.