Go between the Covers for the Love Affair of Your Life

Cape Times (South Africa), September 7, 2012 | Go to article overview

Go between the Covers for the Love Affair of Your Life


Tomorrow is International Literacy Day, a Unesco-organised day that aims to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Coinciding with this, SA has been celebrating National Book Week to get South Africans to "Read and Share" books and their love of reading.

The uncomfortable truth is that there isn't a lot of "love" for reading to share in our country today. Books remain expensive and out of the reach of the vast majority of ordinary South Africans. According to a national reading survey, just 14 percent of South Africans say that they are active readers, and a mere 5 percent of parents read to their children.

Exacerbating the problem is the lack of local books published that will capture the imagination of young people and get them to love reading. Furthermore, our government is failing our schools and children in even getting the basic rights: books on to desks and into schoolbags so that children can become just functionally literate.

An analysis of our education system by Nicholas Spaull ("Education in SA: A tale of two systems", August 31 on Politicsweb) reminds us of our country's appalling literacy levels.

In a 2006 Progress in Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS 2006), that tested the reading literacy of Grade 4 and 5 children in 45 countries, SA came last.

The 2011 Annual National Assessment results showed how poorly our young learners are being introduced to the basics of reading.

And, as Equal Education points out, only 7 percent of government schools are equipped with functional libraries (rooms that actually have books in them). This means there is little opportunity for most of our young citizens to get properly introduced to books and reading, and therefore little chance of igniting a life-long love of reading.

This is a national shame.

Reading for pleasure has a multitude of benefits. It not only aids literacy development, language acquisition and empowers individuals to become knowledge seekers; but it also helps individuals acquire the "soft skills" that are so necessary in our complex world.

It teaches cause and effect, and logical progression. Readers get to experience other people's lives - from the inside - and thereby learn to empathise and gain a deeper understanding of life. …

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