Minister Schafer Appeals to Young Learners to "Ignite Their Passion for Reading"
Speech by Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Minister of Education
Good morning to all you book-lovers, and thank you very much for inviting me here today.
I am delighted to be at this book fair surrounded by people who share my passion for books and reading.
In my position, I unfortunately have very little time to read literature of my choice, much as I enjoy doing so. I certainly have plenty to read of course, but that is not quite the same as a good novel of my choice that I can get stuck into.
In an attempt to remedy this situation at least a little, I adopted a policy from a colleague of mine many years ago, and that is to make sure that, no matter how tired I am and what time I get to bed, I always read, even if it is just two or three pages.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like not to be able to read. And yet this is the unfortunate reality for far too many in our country.
As a new Provincial Minister of Education, I have become even more acutely aware within a very short time of the importance of literacy in the lives of our learners.
At the forefront of education is the ability to read and write.
That is why we attach such importance to the development of our young learners' literacy skills through reading books.
Literacy is one of the essential skills our children need in terms of their education and is the foundation upon which all further learning is built.
Children who cannot read and write will be presented with challenges throughout their lives. We are seeing this all too often in our schools. Many of our learners are not reading and writing at the required levels. This is presenting problems for their future educational growth and development.
It also goes without saying that the opportunities available to people who cannot read and write are severely limited. If they do not learn the basics early, it negatively affects their prospects for the rest of their lives.
Improving literacy levels is one of our main priorities in the Western Cape Government. We have seen some improvement, but not yet enough. We have implemented systemic tests every year for Grades 3, 6 and 9 to measure literacy and numeracy abilities from year to year and compare them. The results have shown some improvement, but there is a lot more still to be done.
The Western Cape Education Department is concentrating its efforts on improving the reading and writing skills of our learners through various interventions and ensuring text-rich classrooms.
But their task is made a little easier when the private sector and NGOs step in to assist in promoting the love of books and reading.
This book fair is one such intervention which we really value.
We have another instance also where a private donor has assisted us in building an excellent school in one of our poor communities. The school is extremely well resourced and there is a wide choice of readers for the children to take home every night.
I was speaking to the principal of the school the other day, she was saying how the mere fact of having such a choice and being allowed to take the books home, was so significant in that community that this was encouraging the children to read. Not only that, when they took the readers home, their parents were also getting excited about reading and were starting to read these books themselves. In this community, many of the parents are illiterate. It just shows what a difference can be made in an entire community because somebody had the means and the will to make such a contribution.
One of our biggest tasks, I believe, is to try and capture the attention of our young people. They have so much choice nowadays – TV programmes, movies, cellphones, social media. All these seem to appeal far more to a generation that is growing up to expect instant gratification. It is, to borrow a teenage expression from one of my daughters, a "las" to sit down and read a whole book. In fact, when I told her I was speaking here today, her comment was "I would only go to something like that if Chad le Clos were speaking!"
My other daughter, on the other hand, once described the feeling she has when she reads a book she enjoys – she says she likes books that make her heart go "boom boom boom".
She is already saying that when she is old enough to get a part-time job, she wants to work in a certain bookshop, so she can be surrounded by books all day long.
It is a complete mystery to me how two girls who have grown up in the same household – and for that matter the same womb at the same time – can have such different views on reading.
But together, we all need to try and find creative ways in which to further ignite this passion for reading. That is why the Western Cape Government has adopted the slogan "Better Together". None of us has all the answers, but together we are sure to come up with a far better solution.
I sincerely hope that this weekend we will see record numbers of young children enter these doors and walk out with a new thirst for reading.