Reading and Use of Informational Material by South African Youth

By Machet, Myrna P. | School Libraries Worldwide, January-July 2004 | Go to article overview
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Reading and Use of Informational Material by South African Youth


Machet, Myrna P., School Libraries Worldwide


Research on children's reading habits, preferences, and use of information provides useful insights for those working to motivate children and young people to read and use information. This study, conducted by the Children's Literature Research Unit (CLRU) in the Department of Information Science at the University of South Africa (Unisa), Pretoria, was modeled on a study of children's reading habits in England conducted by the Roehampton Institute in the 1990s. Findings reported in this article are related to the reading of informational material by children between the ages of 9 and 16 in South Africa. Although many learners in South Africa have limited access to school libraries or public libraries, the study participants had a positive attitude to reading and nonfiction texts. They were developing strategies to deal with information texts by using retrieval tools, and they were prepared to persevere with books even if they did not understand some words. The study shoiued that children's reading interests in South Africa are not radically different from those of children in England. However, because many young people in South Africa read in a second language, information books need to be written with this in mind.

Background to the Study

About a decade ago, the Children's Literature Research Centre, Roehampton Institute in London, United Kingdom, carried out a research project on children's reading interests that resulted in the publication Young People's Reading at the End of the Century (1996). This was a detailed, in-depth study of young people's reading habits in England that covered a broad range of aspects such as children's preferences as regards genre, subject matter, format, covers, series, and where to obtain books and other reading matter. It also dealt with young people's reading in relation to various social issues such as drugs, AIDS, and pregnancy. Because of its depth of coverage, the range of topics covered, and the representative nature of the sample, it was an extremely important survey of children's reading in England.

Following the success of the British study, researchers from Roehampton proposed that similar studies be conducted in other countries such as South Africa. This would enable them to compare findings from the UK with findings on children's reading from other countries. The Children's Literature Research Unit (CLRU) in the Department of Information Science at the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria agreed to implement the research project, beginning with a pilot project. The CLRU thought that a preliminary project phase would offer insight into the most efficient ways of conducting a research project of this magnitude in a country undergoing great political and social change.

In many countries, extensive research has been done on children's reading interests. To date no extensive research has been carried out in South Africa, and although some isolated studies have been done over the past decades, this work has usually tended to focus on particular groups such as white or Black children. For example, Radebe (1995) studied Black primary school children.

One reason the CLRU decided to conduct this research project in South Africa was because of the real need for accurate information on children's reading and information use by people working in the fields of education, library and information science, and publishing; as well as for local authors and illustrators of books for children. Without insight into children's reading habits, preferences, and information use, it is difficult for publishers, librarians, teachers, and others to motivate children and young people to read and to use information. Information skills such as collecting, analyzing, and organizing information and communicating ideas and information have been identified as key competences for effective participation in the emerging patterns of work and work organization in the 21st century.

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