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South Africa has 11 official languages. Most children learn in their home language until Grade 3, and in English from Grade 4. Yet by this transition year, 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. One key problem is lack of access to high-quality, high-interest reading material - especially storybooks - in children's mother tongue. 58% of homes have no leisure books, and only 7% of homes have >10 books. Just 17% of schools have a stocked library; many stay locked, have unsuitable titles, or do not loan books. Reading culture is also a challenge: only 35% of adults who live with children read aloud to them.
Nal'ibali's bilingual reading-for-enjoyment newspaper supplement is a 16-page, full-colour resource for reading club leaders, teachers, caregivers and children. It is released every 2 weeks during school terms (15x a year).
Each edition includes 3 stories (2 can be cut and folded to make a book); activity suggestions for teachers and caregivers; motivational messaging and information about reading; news from the Nal’ibali network; and games and activities for children. Stories celebrate traditional storytelling and local authors, promote African values, and reflect readers’ lived experiences. All content is bilingual (English and another language). It is available in 8 of 11 national languages.
33.8 million copies have been distributed since 2012. At present, 57% are given free to reading clubs, schools, libraries and community organisations, and 43% are distributed in Tiso Blackstar newspapers.
An external evaluation recently showed that demand is high; use is high; and the supplement is supporting behaviour change, although targeting of distribution channels could improve.
The supplement is part of Nal'ibali's national reading-for-enjoyment campaign. It works in partnership with the Department of Basic Education and other actors. Through advocacy, training, partnerships, media campaigns and high-quality reading materials, Nal’ibali is mobilizing a movement of literacy activists, supporting a network of reading clubs, and raising public awareness of the importance of reading. Since 2012, Nal'ibali has trained 21 084 people. 4 154 reading clubs are active across the country, reaching 120 656 children.
The supplement is an effective, cost-effective innovation well-suited to scale or replication. At $0.11-$0.28 per copy (variable distribution cost), it can increase access to reading material quickly and affordably. Its bilingual format is relevant across Africa, where most children don't learn in their mother tongue. Its regular release supports reading habit formation, and its format supports taking books home. It is also used by adults, and can spread advocacy messages.
It costs ~$30 000 to add a new translation for 1 year. To scale, Nal'ibali would also need local distribution/implementation partners, and support for a sub-grant model.