Literacy development in South Africa is severely hampered by several factors including ineffective teaching in and of African home languages, the severe shortage of African language story books and a poor reading culture. This effectively results in too few African children learning to read well and even fewer learning to read for enjoyment. Insufficient commitment to promoting reading literacy in African languages has resulted in a low demand for African language story books, making production costly, thus exacerbating the shortage of such books. The Ulwazi Lwethu African Languages Book Project seeks to address these supply challenges by providing a rich collection of high-quality reading books and support materials to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), schools, teachers, parents, caregivers, and organisations working in education. Moreover, making these materials and other children’s books available in the form of an online library as open education resources (OER) where users will have the option for digital and hard-copy distribution, will go a long way in transforming the children’s book landscape towards mitigating the literacy challenges faced in South African schools and homes. The Project was set up in response to the dearth of literature in African languages for learners in early grades.
Ulwazi Lwethu African Languages Reading Materials Project is rolled out in phases. Phase I is a three-year project rolled out from 2020 to 2022, will see the development of classroom and leisure readers to support reading and literacy improvement in South Africa. Four organisations form part of the Ulwazi Lwethu partnership consortium, namely, the Nelson Mandela Institute (NMI), Molteno, and Room to Read (RTR). These organisations are responsible for developing the classroom, graded readers, and SAIDE is responsible for the leisure readers.
Phase 2 of the project aims to ensure that teachers can mediate the resources in the classroom, and caregivers and learners can use leisure readers at home. This phase is intended to support uptake and appropriate use of the developed materials.
The project has three goals:
- To produce an abundant variety of high-quality African languages graded and leisure readers in the Foundation Phase.
- To build a cadre of skilled Black writers, illustrators, proof-readers, and editors in African language children’s materials.
- To build capacity and foster collaboration between the NGOs specifically developing the materials.
Phase II is conceptualised as an 18-month project managed and led by the current implementing partners of the Ulwazi Lwethu African Languages Story Book Project. The support materials will comprise:
Learner Worksheets: These worksheets will be designed to facilitate reading for meaning, explore different genres, expand background knowledge, language, and vocabulary of the learner as well as provide opportunities to engage with the text in fun and educational ways.
Big Books for Grade 1 and 2 classes: The Shared Reading methodology used in the Foundation Phase customarily requires Big Book versions of stories that are read aloud by the teacher. Big Books strengthen the oral language skills of learners and stimulate enjoyment and imagination.
Audio Visual Books: These will accompany each graded story book for use with Grade 1, 2 and 3 learners. Read-Alouds encourage children to engage with the story in a fun and educational way, have the effect of improving children’s listening abilities, enhance their information processing skills, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Curation and Cataloguing: There has been a growing need to explore cheaper ways to the provisioning of learner reading materials due to shrinking Learner and Teacher Support Materials (LTSM) budgets. It is proposed that three anthologies per language, each containing 10-16 graded stories, is developed.
Teacher Guide: A ‘’How to Guide’’ for teachers is proposed to maximise and support the combined use of the books together with the teaching and learning resources that will be developed for the programme.
Detailed Catalogue: A description of each book will be developed to communicate and describe the content of books that have been designed for both leisure and classroom use. High quality print-ready files will be available for distribution across social media and on partner websites. This will be consolidated into a catalogue for easy referencing purposes.
External Review and Testing of Ulwazi Lwethu Readers: Input and quality assurance from external parties will be conducted before each of the Ulwazi Lwethu books are signed off and finalised.
It is intended that the provision of the rich collection of high-quality educational reading books in the Ulwazi Lwethu project, will not only provide a creative offering to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), schools, teachers, parents, caregivers and organisations working in education, but also stimulate and complement the supply of African language books in South Africa.