On World Book Day, AfriForum demands more school libraries

World Book Day is celebrated annually on 23 April, the anniversary of the death of authors Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, among others. On this day when a spotlight is cast once more on the key role of books in the development of people, AfriForum demands that the Department of Basic Education come up with a strategy to address the dire shortage of school libraries.

According to Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s Head of Cultural Affairs, this department issued a report in August 2023 in which it was revealed that 74.2% of the 22 597 public schools in the country have no libraries. As for the rest, 43.1% have libraries where there is a huge shortage of books.

“The department has indicated that approximately R8-billion will be required to address this issue, but with the department’s current budget constraints, it is unlikely that the situation will improve soon, unless a workable strategy is developed,” she added.

Bailey mentions that institutions such as AfriForum make donations to schools where possible to replenish their book collections. Relations between non-profit organisations and the department may offer solutions, but then the department’s position on libraries must also be clarified. In this regard, she refers to schools that come under pressure to convert spaces used for libraries into classrooms to accommodate more learners. “The department continues to fail to build sufficient schools for the country’s children and the result is that facilities that promote quality education, such as libraries, are then targeted,” she adds.

“The fact that according to the international Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS study) of 2021, 81% of the country’s Grade 4 learners cannot read with comprehension, can be attributed, among other issues, to children’s lack of exposure to books. Ironically, most schools in affluent areas with public libraries, bookshops and households with books do have libraries, but in environments where there is great social need and the existence of libraries is essential, they are lacking.”

In the words of author Fanie Viljoen: “Libraries are also the places where we dream, where we get together, where we read and where we learn. Friends are made around books, knowledge is exchanged, stories and a sense of wonder are nurtured.” AfriForum emphasises that organisations like theirs will continue helping schools wherever possible to create such islands of excellence. In this way, children can be prepared and inspired for their life as adults. However, it is essential that the department should do more in this regard, rather than trying to implement ill-considered legislation such as the BELA Bill.

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