'Quality education for all,' says Nal'ibali's new CEO, Yandiswa Xhakaza

02 June 2020 - 10:55 By Carla Lever and nal'ibali
Nal’ibali's new CEO, Yandiswa Xhakaza.
Nal’ibali's new CEO, Yandiswa Xhakaza.
Image: Supplied

Nal'ibali column No 18 Term 2 2020

Congratulations on your new position as Nal'ibali's CEO, and thanks for chatting to us. What first drew you to Nal'ibali?

I strongly believe children who love reading do not only excel academically, but also  excel and thrive in life.

You've started directorship at a very dramatic time. What challenges, and opportunities, does lockdown present to supporting a culture of reading in South Africa?

We have an opportunity to get our newspaper supplements out in communities by partnering with community-based organisations to ensure children without smart devices or the internet have access to engaging activities and stories. We’re learning new ways of working that don’t leave out those who aren’t digitally connected.

I'm sure you've had to adapt your vision and strategy on your feet. Given the changing and uncertain conditions, what are your priorities for Nal'ibali over the next year?

Financial sustainability and a scaleable and sustainable operating model. We’ll continue to prioritise access to reading material for all children in their respective home languages.

What are some of your favourite Nal'ibali initiatives that might help parents struggling with ways to keep children engaged during this prolonged period at home?

We created a WhatsApp story line in an attempt to make stories accessible to everyone. All you have to do is send “stories” to +27 060 044 2254 and you’ll have access to Nal’ibali stories at your fingertips.

Even after working in the educational sector for some time, there is always room to be surprised by new statistics or research. What facts shock you most about South Africans' access to books?

How is it that so many children still do not have more than five books in their homes in 2020? No wonder children still cannot read for meaning at the end of Grade 3.

So often we think virtual content is the answer, but Nal'ibali make a great case for why community radio, newspaper and mobility of hard copy books are still innovative and important solutions for the majority in our country. Why is this?

In a country such as ours, we’re quick to forget how severe the disparities between the rich and poor are. We also tend to forget how horrible the digital divide is in South Africa. Online learning is only relevant to a fraction of this country’s children. The rest still rely heavily on hard copy material, radio and, to a great extent, television for learning.

If you could change one thing at an educational policy level, what would it be?

Quality education for all our children. I’m talking about state-of-the-art school buildings, passionate and excellent teachers, high quality and engaging learning material, safe schools, and a relevant curriculum that is in line with the skills required by this ever-changing economy.

How can people find Nal'ibali stories, or engage with your work?

You can visit our website: www.nalibali.org. We’re on Facebook, where we host live story sessions. A lot of our content can easily be found there. Text our WhatsApp Storyline (060 044 2254) for free stories sent directly to your phone. We’re broadcasting stories on 11 SABC radio stations – details are on our website. We also publish story supplements in local newspapers, including Daily Dispatch and Sowetan.

What message would you like to send to children, and adults, about the power of reading and storytelling?

Reading takes you places you may have never been to. By reading, you get to explore and experience the world in an intimate and profound way. People who read are innovative: they become pioneers, game-changers and captains of their industries. Infants and children who are read become adults who can change the world.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org