This story originally appeared on Room to Read.
Lingering Effects of Apartheid
Ms. Nkosi, a grade one teacher at Baxoxele Primary School, knows the odds stacked against South African students. Having watched children rise from struggles, she’s seen how strong reading habits not only build confidence but also pave the way for success in and outside the classroom.
Yet, with 80 percent of South African government-run schools lacking libraries, the vast majority of students start behind and stay behind.
“Most learners come from poor backgrounds. Going to the public library involves money, so the majority of learners have no access to library facilities,” says Nkosi.
Without access to books, literacy rates fall—which explains why nearly 60 percent of grade four students cannot read for meaning. This not only leads to low graduation rates but also widens the education gap between races. Only 14 percent of black South Africans finish high school as compared to 65 percent of their white peers.
“Black learners are disadvantaged because most of their parents are illiterate. In our community there is a lack of parental involvement in education,” says Nkosi about the conditions she sees in her South African community. “Children of other races, especially whites, are at an advantage as parents are involved in their education, laying a foundation that is encouraging for learners. This plays a vital role in eliminating this imbalance.”
With Accessibility Comes Possibility
Baxoxele Primary School has seen first-hand how providing quality instruction, a fully-equipped library, and practices for at-home reading help students thrive.
Take 8-year-old Ayanda, for instance. She was fortunate enough to start grade one with a local Literacy Program in place. Raised by her grandmother, Winnie, who makes a living selling perfumes and clothes in town, Ayanda’s family couldn’t afford a uniform. Yet, the program’s comprehensive support eased the strain, allowing Winnie to focus on nurturing Ayanda’s after-school, reading habits.
Since starting the program, teachers and family alike notice Ayanda’s beaming enthusiasm for books. With easy access to an array of educational resources, she epitomizes the program’s promise.
“Ayanda has improved very much in reading since she starting making use of the library books provided by Room to Read,” says Winnie. “She hardly watches television and spends much of her time enjoying reading and doing schoolwork.”
Fulfilling Mandela’s Dream
By excelling in school, Ayanda has developed the confidence to dream big and the capacity to act on opportunities.
“Ayanda got assistance at home from an early age. This resulted in her getting an opportunity to be an actor in a local television show,” says Nkosi. “Room to Read helped her build her potential through reading. She is so enthusiastic when it comes to reading.”
While her grandmother and teacher are proud of her ability to thrive in her studies and extracurricular activities, Ayanda has higher hopes for herself.
“When I grow up I would like to be a pediatrician. I like to help children who are sick,” Ayanda says. “I also want to help those who are struggling to read so that they could be leaders in the future.”
Ayanda is just one of the 422,127 South African children supported through Room to Read’s Literacy Program. Her story speaks to Nelson Mandela’s dream of equality: As the anti-apartheid activist said, “Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.”
With supportive teacher trainings, 800,000 local language books and effective instruction, Room to Read is helping South African schools empower its youth and turn today’s readers into tomorrow’s leaders.