A 22-year-old primary school teacher has received praise for penning a book to help children become proficient readers, especially considering that 81% of Grade 4 students in South Africa struggle with literacy.
The author, Vuyisile Mahlobo, participated in a forum of authors at the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) in Mbombela during a Literary Renaissance roundtable.
Mahlobo is a former student at the University’s Siyabuswa Campus in the Highveld and currently teaches at Phiva KwaJelusa Primary School in Phiva Village outside of Malalane.
The Department of Basic Education in South Africa commissioned a University of Pretoria study in May of this year, which revealed that 81% of Grade 4 students there are having trouble reading for comprehension at the age of 10. This was the South African portion of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2021.
Such statistics have saddened Mahlobo, but also inspired her to take action in order to prevent South African children from being left behind.
“As a teacher in the foundation phase, I’ve observed that our schoolchildren cannot read or write. They commit numerous elementary errors, such as combining vowels. This causes me concern because when they read a word, it makes no sense,” Mahlobo said. “I realised that the problem begins with us foundation phase teachers, as the literacy rates of Grade 4 students are a direct reflection on us because these children’s parents entrust us with their care.”
The author, of Joyful Stories, stated that she chose to use storytelling as a creative method to spark the interest of the learners she teaches at her school.
“I observed that storytelling is effective, so I decided to publish a book that can be disseminated beyond the school’s walls. I am currently writing a children’s book in SiSwati to generate interest in our indigenous languages,” she said.
Mahlobo’s dedication to encouraging reading among the nation’s youth impressed everyone in attendance, including students who wanted to be authors.
“What Vuyisile is doing is inspiring, as I have a 15-year-old illiterate brother at home. We have siblings that are younger than him, but they are able to read and write. Meeting this author has inspired me to consider inventive ways to encourage my brother to begin reading. I believe children’s books will serve as a foundation for his educational journey,” said Khanyi Mndawe, a first-year student at UMP pursuing a Bachelor of Development Studies.
Mlungisi Matsebula, a presenter and producer of SABC Education on Ligwalagwala FM, expressed his eagerness to support children’s book authors.
“I am ecstatic that the University of Mpumalanga has opened its doors to creatives, particularly during this Heritage Month in which we celebrate writing as a means of preserving history. We are advocating for African authors who can tell African stories in an African way,” said Matsebula.
Bobo Lukhele, the leader of Beehive, a non-governmental organisation that promotes reading, expressed immense pride in authors who recognise the right of minors to read and write.
“I find it encouraging that extracurricular reading is treated seriously. At home, there must be something for children to read,” said Lukhele, adding that it is crucial for authors to contemplate writing children’s books in indigenous languages.
Lebogang Sithole, UMP student development officer at the Mbombela Campus, stated that the Student Society Chapters Book Club is an integral element of one of the extracurricular activities.
“As a university, we strive to promote a culture of reading and learning. It is unfortunate that recent studies reveal that our Grade 4 learners cannot read or write. Students at the university level also struggle with reading and writing, which is a regrettable reality.
“This is where the Chapters Book Club steps in. It is about promoting that culture and encouraging students to return to the fundamentals and concentrate on reading and writing. For this reason, it is so inspiring to see young teachers like Vuyisile bridging the gap and putting the pieces together,” said Sithole.
University of Mpumalanga’s Dean of Students, Dr. Paul Maminza, was pleased with the event’s success.
“We are happy to see our former student from the Siyabuswa Campus contributing positively to the development of our society,” said Maminza.
Lungelihle Dlamni, the coordinator of the UMP Chapters Book Club, urged other authors to follow in Mahlobo’s footsteps.