South Africa’s reading-for-enjoyment campaign, Nal’ibali, took third place at the African Union’s Innovation in Education Prize, rising ahead of six other emerging innovators from across the continent. The announcement came during the AU Commission’s Innovating Education in Africa Exhibition in Dakar, supported by the Senegalese Government and African partner institutions.
The campaign received this recognition in large part for its bilingual reading-for-enjoyment supplement. The supplement is produced by PRAESA (Project for the Research of Alternative Education in South Africa), printed biweekly in Tiso Blackstar newspapers, The Daily Dispatch, Herald and The Sunday World. It is donated and delivered directly to reading clubs, schools, libraries, and community organisations in the Nal’ibali network across South Africa, with the support of its publisher and the South African Post Office. Since 2012, 37.3 million supplements have been distributed to those who need them the most.
“We’re really honoured to receive this continent-wide recognition,” says Katie Huston, Head of Research and Innovation at Nal’ibali. “We often assume innovation has to mean new technology, but the supplement shows that something really ‘low-tech’ can have a huge impact when it is built on sound research; when it catalyses ground-breaking partnerships between the private sector, civil society and government; and when it meets people where they are. We want to thank the AU for recognising the importance of innovative solutions to our continent’s education challenges. Together we can give all our children the opportunity and support they need to become lifelong readers.”
Nal’ibali’s award-winning supplement may be the answer to one of South Africa’s biggest challenges: How do we get quality, affordable reading material into our children’s hands? Reading has been shown to be the single biggest contributor to a child’s future school success, yet only 17% of South African schools have a library stocked with books, and very few homes have more than ten titles on their shelves.
“In South Africa, books are expensive and very few are printed in indigenous languages,” adds Jade Jacobsohn, Managing Director of Nal’ibali. “When schools do manage to get books, they often keep them for teachers to read in the classroom only. They’re simply too precious to risk getting damaged by children.”
Each 16-page edition of Nal’ibali’s newspaper supplement has a range of exciting and accessible literacy resources designed to get children to fall in love with reading. This includes two to three new cut-out-and-keep story books which encourage children to feel part of the process and provide a sense of ownership of printed reading materials. There are also ‘story active’ tips that help caregivers and educators extend the story sharing experience, as well as fun literacy-related games and activities.
The supplements currently come in eight of South Africa’s 11 national languages, meaning inclusivity is central to its design. And, with the supplements printed every second week during school term time, teachers who receive the supplement report that children cannot wait for ‘story week’.
Huston explains some of the winning features that impressed the AU judges. “Not only are the supplements cost effective – they cost just R1.55 (11 US cents) per copy to develop and print – but they’re meeting children where they’re at, with quality, fun reading material in their home languages. This is important because having a strong foundation in their first language better equips children to learn additional languages, including English, and to succeed in school.”
These innovative efforts have now been recognised by the AU, as part of a drive to meet both the Continental Education Strategy for Africa goals and the UN Sustainable Development Goals too.