As movements like Equal Education point out, the education received by young people in post-Apartheid South Africa remainsvastly unequal, despite high government spending. Low levels of literacy lie at the heart of the porblme. This is exacerbated by lack of access to books and reading content. A mere 8% of public schools have a functional library with books in it. And, there is a lack of a reading culture among South Africans generally; just 14% of SA adults claim to be ‘active readers’ and just 5% of parents read to their children, a 2007 study on behalf of the SA Book Development Council found.
Latest estimates claim that South Africa has 9 million functionally illiterate people, 4.7 million of whom are children. The need is urgent: improving literacy and growing a culture of reading is imperative to build the foundation for an empowered, enggaed and active citizenry and thereby contribute to the growth of a strong democracy and a healthy, more equitable society.
Becoming literate is not just about deciphering text. The benefits of reading fiction anre numerous and well documented: it develops imagination, insight, empathy, critical thinking, the understanding of cause and effect and logical progression. It also develops vocabulary and a general mastery of the language. An Oxford University study found that reading for pleasure as a teenager was the only extra-mural activity that was psotively correlated with later professional performance. Researcher Mark Taylor stated, ‘According to our results there is something special about reading for pleasure. The positive associations of reading for pleasure aren’t replicated in any other extra-curricular activity, regardless of our expectations’.
FunDza Literacy Trust believes that young people who may not have developed a love of reading at home or at school can become motivated readers, provided that they are exposed to stories that engage their interest and are relevant to their lives. FunDza’s programmes aim to ignite a passion for reading and writing.
FunDza works to address these issues through its programmes aimed at popularising reading, developing young writing talent and growing communities of readers through their mobi network. We have previously funded them to improve their platform and are delighted today to announce a further grant of £20,000 to help them further develop the platform and improve functionality for users. The new upgrades will allow users to rate content, complete literacy and comprehension tests, create a user profile to track their progress and build an admin interface to allow FunDza staff to quickly and easily create and monitor competitions and surveys. The team also has a number of other functions that they are exploring.
FunDza are already reaching around 50,000 users a month, each of whom spends an average of 14 minutes on the platform. We’re hopeful that this next stage of development will allow more people to enjoy the system and that it improves the experience for existing users.