Mobile libraries reach schools

18 November 2011 - 03:06 By McKEED KOTLOLO and RETHA GROBBELAAR

Fewer than 4000 of South Africa's 22000 primary schools have libraries, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said.

She was speaking at the handing over of 11 mobile libraries from the SA Primary Education Support Initiative in Pretoria yesterday.

"We have 22000 primary schools in the country and only about 18% [about 3960] have libraries, which is very low," said Motshekga.

"We are expanding access to books because the infrastructure of having libraries might take longer than we can afford to wait."

Motshekga said to cover the schools that do not have libraries, the department "is working closer with municipalities to up their services at schools and give kids more books".

Eleven new mobile libraries from Japan were delivered to the Basic Education Department yesterday.

There are already 32 mobile libraries in the country - 13 in KwaZulu-Natal, seven in the Free State, seven in the Western Cape and five in Gauteng.

The mobile libraries provide books to about 6250 teachers and 174000 pupils and visit 510 schools in the four provinces.

The 11 new libraries will serve North West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, which means all nine provinces will now benefit from the initiative.

The mobile libraries - which are housed in medium-sized buses - travel around provinces and provide poor communities with free access to books.

Each bus has 2500 books in all 11 official languages, which cater for children between the ages of six and 11.

Equal Education spokesman Dmitri Holtzman said yesterday mobile libraries are a "positive move", but added that the ultimate goal should be that every school has a library.

He said if the country wants to improve the "bad" literacy levels of pupils a culture of reading needs to be developed where children have access to reading materials outside the classroom.

The results of this year's annual national assessments didn't paint a rosy picture of children's literacy ability.

Grade 3 pupils scored an average of 35%, whereas Grade 6s achieved an average of 28%.

Ensuring schools have proper libraries should form a central part of improving literacy abilities and pupils' overall academic performance, Holtzman said.

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