I know that this is an international problem, but in a South African context, the divide is even more stark. We have the double problem of homes where parents (or often grannies who are the primary caregivers) are functionally illiterate and, perhaps more problematic, a population that places little emphasis on the written word; South Africa really lacks a culture of reading. The The South African Book Development Council (2012) estimates that only 1% of South Africans are regular buyers of books and only 14% can be considered "committed" readers (of a literacy rate of 88.7%).
I strongly believe that this reading gap in the early years perpetuates an already very divided education system. The sad reality is that by the time that a child from a print-poor background enters school (through the now compulsory kindergarten year) it is already too late. They are already at a disadvantage. As Wolf writes:
"Children who begin kindergarten having heard and used thousands of words, whose meanings are already understood, classified, and stored away in their young brains, have the advantage on the playing field of education. Children who never have a story read to them, who never hear words that rhyme, who never imagine fighting with dragons or marrying a prince, have the odds overwhelmingly against them."I think part of the problem is that for many, reading is associated with school and learning, and not necessarily fun which adds to a self-perpetuating and downward spiraling cycle of reading. The result is two-fold: firstly because reading isn't viewed as pleasurable, it becomes a chore (for example homework for older kids in the family) and watching TV is what families do to relax. Secondly, while the importance of reading may be acknowledged, it is often seen as belonging in the domain of schools and teachers, which means that for many children their first real interactions with books begin in school. Besides being too late, so many South African schools do not have a functional, let alone inviting, library that will inspire a love of reading.
And so the reading divide continues...
|Old work photos I took of various rural and township schools and their libraries in KwaZulu-Natal|