Thursday, July 2, 2015

Read to Rise



With all the bad news circulating around Greece - and most other countries you'd care to name - it seems to be the moment to share something positive that's happening in South Africa.  And it's a topic that is close to our hearts as readers, and probably even closer to our hearts as writers.

Despite good will and some sterling efforts, South Africa's public education system remains in the doldrums.  South Africa fares particularly badly in international comparisons rating primary education, and that's a big concern because those years are so critical.  There are a variety of reasons for this, including instruction in English (a second or third language), inequality between schools, and teacher apathy.

It's easy to point at the government and moan that they're doing a bad job.  Much more valuable to actually try to do something about it.

Athol Williams reading with kids at a school in Mitchells Plain
Athol Williams is a philosopher and published poet (under the name AE Ballakisten) and a big enthusiast of the importance of books and reading.  He teamed up with Taryn Lock to see what opportunities kids at primary school had to read books - either for knowledge or for pleasure.  What they discovered was that, apart from the standard books that are issued for the formal curriculum, in a large segment of the schools the answer was nothing.  The kids don't have - and can't afford - any books of their own, and the same applies to their parents so there are no books at home. In most cases, the schools have no libraries.  Few of these children have parents who have the time (or inclination) to take their kids to a public library, and even if there is a library in walking distance, it would be too dangerous for a child to walk there alone.  And these are not kids who have smart phones or access to the internet at home (or even unrestricted at school). Children at that age should be reading 40 books a year, but in the disadvantaged communities it's good if they read one or two.

Taryn at Cascade Primary School
So last year they started an initiative called Read to Rise. Basically the idea was to try to get the kids to enjoy reading and to appreciate that there are things you can get from books that you won't get anywhere else.  Their initiative has three main features.  In the first place, they arranged for every child to have their own book.  To avoid royalties and other difficulties for the schools, Athol wrote the book and Taryn illustrated it.  I haven't actually seen Oaky and the Sun, but it sounds like fun and the kids seem to love it.  They are thrilled to be able to write their names in the book and sometimes ask if it is really okay to write in the book and if they can really keep the book.  Then volunteers spend time with the class reading with them and generally motivating that reading is fun, and that it opens new worlds for you.  The third feature - perhaps the best of all - is that Read to Rise arranges for the class to have their own minilibrary.  They bring a multicolored shelf and install it, fill it with books, and let the kids loose on it.

Doesn't look like these kids are giving up their books any time soon!
Importantly, the school system has embraced the initiative.  Funding is provided by corporate donors, but also by ordinary people who are not only willing to give money, but also willing to give their time and enthusiasm for reading and books.

So keep writing out there! After all, we have a new generation of readers developing.

Michael - Thursday.

10 comments:

  1. Good news!!! GREAT news!!!!!!
    Somehow, without planning it, Michael, you and Stan and I manage to post good things happening in Africa on an irregular but continuous basis. You are the most consistent in this regard. It lifts my heart whenever it happens. And nothing can do that better than seeing kids with books. THANK YOU.

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  2. It's amazing what an individual can do with commitment and very limited resources. Amazing that most governments can do very little with massive resources!

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  3. It's called 'leverage,' Michael, and having the knowledge or willingness to find the proper spot to wield it. The only tool that governments seem to have, or at least want to use, is the hammer.

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  4. Yay, Michael, for the positive. Send some due north please. :)

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  5. Everett, You are right of course. And the commitment is misaligned. Most governments' commitment is to stay in power.
    Jeff, I guess there are lots of people up north who are doing positive things. That's what makes it so sad...

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  6. Great post Michael! Thank you!

    Athol and I do what we can to help those children in under-resourced communities who need some inspiration :)

    www.readtorise.co.za

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    1. Thank you Taryn. Stan and I met Athol on his radio show a couple of years ago and I was really impressed with your initiative when I heard him speak about on classic fm recently. I wanted to share it. Thanks for what you do!

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    2. Thank you Taryn. Stan and I met Athol on his radio show a couple of years ago and I was really impressed with your initiative when I heard him speak about on classic fm recently. I wanted to share it. Thanks for what you do!

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    3. Thank you Taryn. Stan and I met Athol on his radio show a couple of years ago and I was really impressed with your initiative when I heard him speak about on classic fm recently. I wanted to share it. Thanks for what you do!

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  7. Thank you for this wonderful article Michael, I am so honoured to have you reflect so positively on the work that we do. I fondly remember our radio interview on my show, Words Alive, a few years ago.

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