Public libraries must be properly equipped

SOUTH Africa is not a reading nation. Literacy levels in our schools are alarmingly low.

The table below shows the results of the Annual National Assessments conducted in all public schools in 2012 and last year. The figures show the percentage of children considered literate, that is achieving greater than 50% for the assessment on language.

It is clear that the Eastern Cape pupils consistently perform below the national average, and that, by the end of Grade 3, only half of our children are considered literate.

The situation worsens as the pupils progress through their schooling career. Libraries play a pivotal role in encouraging our children to read. Last month was National Library Week.

To mark the occasion, I paid a visit to Elukhanyisweni Public Library in KwaNobuhle.

I found a motivated staff of four, with an enthusiastic and committed head.

The young children’s library assistant is responsible for devising exciting reading programmes and encouraging schools to send their pupils to participate. (How sad it is that schools should have to be encouraged to do this. Teachers should be doing all they can to increase literacy levels.)

The staff have made the library a vibrant place, that should be a hive of young activity.

However, the five computers sitting proudly on a specially-designed carousel have never worked.

Pupils needing information for assignments have only outdated resources to explore – none of the books applicable to the Caps curriculum have been supplied.

The list of desired books submitted monthly by the staff is largely ignored. The last shipment to the library comprised a shelf full of Mills and Boons romances (in English) and two shelves full of Afrikaans books on the Great Trek.

These books have some value of course, but are ill-suited to the needs of the KwaNobuhle pupils.

If South Africa is to have the bright future it deserves, our children must be literate. Libraries are pivotal in achieving this. Gems like the KwaNobuhle library head must be supported in the huge task that rests upon their shoulders.

They must be supported by the schools, by the Education Department, by the parents of our pupils, but, most of all, they must be supported by those responsible for budgeting for books, and for purchasing appropriate literature.

The importance of literacy, as we develop our future leaders, cannot be overestimated. Failure is not an option.

Annette Lovemore MP, DA spokeswoman on basic education and MP for the Winterberg constituency, Eastern Cape