Basic Education Minister
All State Senior Officials
Non-Governmental Organisations Leadership
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed a privilege to welcome you to this first Reading Roundtable Discussion. The main purpose of the Reading Roundtable is to engage you in supporting the Sector in enhancing a robust reading culture in all schools.
This Reading Roundtable Discussion is a response to the vision of the National Development Plan (NDP) which proposes a national initiative involving all stakeholders to drive efforts to improve learning outcomes in schools. These are the key focus areas that are mapped in the NDP over the next 18 years:
- Improving literacy, numeracy/mathematics and science outcomes;
- Increasing the number of learners eligible to study maths and science based degrees at university;
- Improving performance in international comparative studies;
- Improving learner retention.
An intensive effort is therefore needed to promote reading in our schools and develop reading skills. Research has shown that access to a wide range of interesting and relevant reading resources, both stories and information, has the largest impact on reading levels for home language and additional languages. In a study commissioned by Reading is Fundamental, the meta-analysis of 44 rigorous studies on the impact of access to reading materials found that access improves children’s reading performance, the amount they read and their attitudes to reading and learning. The development of different models of school libraries is essential to provide access to such reading resources.
The first step towards collaboration between government and non-government agencies has been facilitated through the Education Collaboration Framework (ECF) which has given birth to the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT).
Ladies and gentlemen on behalf of the Sector, I am encouraging and inviting all stakeholders and partners to join us in launching a Reading Revolution which will impact on the provisioning of quality reading and library resources, explicit teaching of reading in the early grades, high quality teacher training and development programmes, the utilisation of ICT reading resources and optimal utilisation of public and municipal libraries.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I recently read an article from the UK Guardian written by Neil Gaiman titled, “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.” In his article Gaiman makes an ‘impassioned plea’ to preserve libraries and librarians. He says that we all must promote the importance of libraries and the value of reading, in pursuit of raising literate and resourceful children. The article also addresses his concern about 21st century people misunderstanding the value and purpose of libraries, and the impact of library closures on reading and literacy.
Gaiman says: and I quote
‘’Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuances, and make themselves understood. Libraries really are the gates to the future.”
Gaiman explains the “simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity.” One of the fundamental points made is that libraries are all about the value of information. Information in any format – hardcopy books, e-books, audiobooks etc. Libraries are places, portals and resource hubs that link us to valuable information.
Gaiman’s article also highlights the enormous value of finding the right information in this era of information gluttony. He says
‘The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.’
I couldn’t agree more with the essence of this article. The DBE has recognised the important role that libraries play in linking people to information for learning and leisure. We see the role of engaging people within the community in reading and learning as important today as in the past – maybe even more important. We see, and to continue with the jungle analogy, that as the jungle canopy becomes more dense people are going to need even more help to navigate their way through the abundance to find the information they need.
Evidence in support of libraries found that well-funded and staffed libraries are linked to student literacy and reading achievement. A further e-Book trial in late 2012, undertaken by Softlink and a large education provider in the United Kingdom, showed that e-Resource discovery and delivery technology improved student reading. A remarkable finding is that:
More than 80% of students indicated that technology helped them read (E-books for leisure and learning).
In this trial, the role of the library was instrumental in driving access to digital resources, through digital devices and teaching the students digital search skills. Whatever our personal preference for hardcopy or electronic books, today’s youth have been born into this fast-paced digital age, and are demanding greater access to resources through technology.
If the simplest way to raise literate children is to teach them to read, then giving them access to books/resources through the technology they know and use at home is a priority that the Sector is addressing and needs the support of the wider community.
The reality is that the library can take centre stage in advancing literacy levels by adopting the right technologies. Technology provides libraries with more opportunities than ever before. Libraries and librarians, with their knowledge and research skills, are in the best position to provide much needed search and digital literacy skills to ensure that we, and our children, access the right learning resources – and not get caught it the jungle.
With these opening remarks Ladies and Gentlemen, may I take this opportunity to encourage you to engage robustly in the Commission discussions and support the Department of Basic Education in launching the Reading revolution and the 1000 School Library Campaign.
I thank you.