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Growing a Love of Reading in South Africa

November 03, 2016

Skill building South Africa

When Gosiama was in second grade he didn’t much care for books, or school for that matter. “Recognizing sounds and writing sentences was a serious problem for Gosiama,” said Annah Rakau, his second-grade teacher at Refentse Primary School in the Gauteng province of South Africa.

“He would get easily discouraged and lose focus.” Preferring to play, Gosiama was known for disturbing the other students during class.

In Gauteng, the concern for struggling students like Gosiama who come from poor homes is that all too often they drop out, with some of the boys becoming substance abusers as a way of coping with the poverty. “It is always our wish to see them become better citizens,” said Ms. Rakau. “But often we don’t have the resources to give them the support they need.”

When Room to Read launched its Literacy Program at Refentse in 2015 and established a library there, the school had no storybooks, much less any resources to encourage reading. A fourth grader that year, Gosiama checked out just two books from the library. Then in 2016, in the span of only five months, that number jumped to 13 books. Something had changed in this boy. 

It started with library period. As part of Room to Read’s Literacy Program, the Refentse teachers take their students to the library each week for reading activities. Quickly, Gosiama noticed his reading skills improve. “I felt excited. It was nice to be able to read in front of the class,” he said, adding, “the library encourages us to stay at school because there are a lot of good storybooks we can read.”

Then Ms. Rakau chose Gosiama to be a library monitor and help his classmates check out books. “That really encouraged me to love reading,” Gosiama said. “I saw the different kinds of books other students were checking out, and I started being more interested in reading.”

Gosiama is now a reading role model for others at his school.

One of his responsibilities is to persuade his classmates to read more. “I have to be a role model,” he said. “I tell my friends to read as much as I do because it is nice when we read to one another to see how well we are doing.” In response, his friends have begun checking out more books from the library.

“I’ve noticed a change since Room to Read came to our school,” said Ms. Rakau, a teacher for 34 years. “The performance of the class has improved greatly and many students enjoy reading, Gosiama especially. His willingness to read, even during break time, has made a difference in his studies. Now he asks questions in class and enjoys being challenged.” 

Ms. Seema, the teacher-librarian, agreed. “Gosiama has increased the number of books he checks out to two a week. He likes to visit the library even when there’s no library period,” she said. “I’m not surprised he turned into an avid reader with Room to Read resources at his disposal.” 

Now a fifth grader, Gosiama said his interest in reading has impacted his family. “My siblings and my parents also borrow books from the library,” he said. Though he plans to become a doctor, Gosiama wants to continue inspiring others to read. “I tell them that reading is a skill we all need to improve our vocabulary and make our lives better.”


This story is part of our 2015 Global Monitoring Report. Check out  the full online report here.

Download the full report (PDF, 11 MB)