Reading and writing for pleasure in South Africa

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© UNESCO/Fundza Literacy Trust
01 September 2017

The South African project ‘Growing FunDza Fanz readers and writers’ won the 2017 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize.

The literacy prize goes to The ‘FunDza Literacy Trust’, a non-profit organization that promotes a culture of reading and writing for pleasure in South Africa.

A National Reading Survey from 2016 found that 58% of South African households do not contain a single leisure-reading book, and that similarly there are only few public libraries in low-income areas.

“In this book-poor environment, it is hard to cultivate a vibrant reading culture. This is exacerbated by the fact that there are few books written by and for young South Africans,” said Mignon Hardie, Executive Director at Fundza Literacy Trust. She has been involved with the organization since its inception, and has been instrumental in ensuring FunDza’s growth and success in getting young people to read and write for pleasure.

“The lack of a reading culture is felt in our schools where students struggle to understand what they read or make meaning from text. This results in low academic performance, particularly for students from the poorest backgrounds.”

The non-profit organization created an online platform called ‘Fundza.mobi’ to counter the book-poor environment and provide exciting local reading materials to teens and young adults with little access to reading resources at home or at school across the country.  The platform gives them access to reading resources and online courses to improve the readers comprehension and vocabulary skills. The texts range from local short stories to blogs, feature articles and children's stories.

“With access to local stories they can start to see their own lives reflected back to them through the content,” says Ms Hardie. “This provides opportunities for self-development, reflection and the stories spark discussion, interaction and debate.”

The power of technology to nurture a community of readers and writers

Ms Hardie emphasizes the importance of interesting content to attract young readers, and that relevant local stories can inspire young people to read more, to develop a sense of self and open a window to a broader worldview.

She also mentions technology as being an important success factor, with the possibility for connecting and creating a community: “We've learned about the power of technology to scale and connect people. But we've also learned how one needs to build systems that work within the environment you are wanting to reach. For us finding ways to reduce the data cost of using our platform has been an important success factor.”

In addition to its fundza.mobi platform, FunDza also connects with its readers and writers through WhatsApp, email and other social media channels. This gives it the opportunity to communicate about new content, highlight inspirational articles and promote a sense of community and belonging.

“We've learned about the power of community and relationships. We can see that where our reading groups are most successful there is at the centre a strong, passionate reader and leader who inspires young people to read more and who puts fun back into reading,” she said.

With the possibility for emerging writers to display their work and receive comments and feedback from readers, the interactive platform has started developing local writing talent that gives the most talented writers the opportunity to enrol in a mentorship programme:

“The young writers whom we mentor to become contributors to our platform are also role-models for our readers. They show them that they too are potential creators of texts, not just consumers.  Many of the young writers tell us that being published on the fundza.mobi platform boosts their confidence and encourages them to write more,” said Ms Hardie.

This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be awarded to laureates from Canada, Colombia, Jordan, Pakistan and South Africa on International Literacy Day, celebrated on 8 September. The prize-giving ceremony will be organized at UNESCO Headquarters and be part of the global event. This year’s Literacy Prizes will focus on Literacy in a digital world.