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Can we bolster independent reading amongst young learners by providing classroom libraries?

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01.25.2024

Can we bolster independent reading amongst young learners by providing classroom libraries?

The answer is yes, but we need to carefully consider the classroom context, the preparedness of teachers, and the type of books we place in classrooms.

The Department of Basic Education, working with the Zenex Foundation, launched the Gauteng Classroom Library Project in 2022 to encourage and enable independent reading in resource-scarce, early-grade classrooms. The project distributed 1 000 classroom libraries to selected Quintile 1-3 schools in three languages – Sesotho, Sepedi and Afrikaans.

A recent rapid evaluation of the project provides valuable insights into the impact of class size, teacher training and book selection on successful uptake and implementation. The evaluation focused on two questions: To what extent was the model implemented with fidelity? To what degree did teachers and learners use the libraries? The evaluation revealed that:

  • Classroom size mattered: Over 60% of teachers reported managing large or very large classes, making it challenging to plan, allocate time for book selection, and administer the libraries effectively.
  • Teacher training was useful: Although teacher training proved beneficial, challenges such as high trainer-to-teacher ratios, disrupted and delayed set-up in classrooms, and limited follow-up visits, hindered optimal results.
  • Learners accessed books: Despite challenges, learners demonstrated increased access to books, with over half borrowing two or more books and almost 40% taking these books home. Prior to the project, access to books was limited to textbooks, with few learners reading newspapers and magazines. Teachers agreed that the libraries positively impacted learners’ reading habits.
  • Implementation faced difficulties, including language mismatches. Teachers also complained about books sometimes not being returned or returned damaged. It also transpired that some teachers were using the books for group guided reading, rather than independent reading.
  • More work is needed to include parents: The evaluation highlighted the need for increased parent participation with less than 40% of teachers reported having met with parents.

To bolster the project’s impact and ensure a more enriching independent reading experience for learners, teachers suggested addressing challenges related to overcrowded classrooms, and providing books at the easier levels, a diverse range of books, and flashcards.

Please contact the Zenex Foundation at info@zenexfoundation.org.za for a full copy of the evaluation of the Classroom Library Project.

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This pamphlet is available in Tshivenda, isiXhosa, Sepedi, isiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Setswana, Xitsonga, siSwati, isiNdebele, Sign Language and English.

Visit www.bua-lit.org.za for details.

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