A recent survey by the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa found that 41% of respondents own ten books or fewer, making access to them a problem for many South Africans. This is considered a “disturbing statistic” by the association’s executive director.
Some 80% of those who completed the PAMSA survey admitted that they own 50 books or less, with only 8.6% reporting that they own more than 100.
Jane Molony, executive director of PAMSA, states that the statistic of 41% of South Africans owning ten books or fewer is concerning, but the focus should not only be on the number of them owned but also on improving access to them in various forms and languages, including picture books for young children, which are particularly important for language and brain development. Ideally, this should be in paper format.
The same study also revealed when reading for leisure, 32% preferred paper books to electronic versions
“Reading itself takes us to new places; books – especially in paper format – have the power to immerse us in the story,” adds Molony, also a former chair of the now defunct South African Book Development Council.
Molony says, “Countless research studies have shown that paper-based materials promote reading comprehension, information retention and learning and that print-based texts are superior to digital texts in facilitating learning strategies. Therefore, owning or sharing books, and fostering a culture of reading, is crucial.”
Paper is also a renewable material, storing carbon as a harvested wood product, and can be easily recycled, shared, or passed along.
Access to books
The executive director of Book Dash, Julia Norrish, says that the survey by the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) provides valuable information about access to books and reading preferences. She also mentions that although many people find print materials valuable, it doesn’t always correspond to how many people own and access books.
Book Dash is an organization that creates and distributes African picture books to children and their families to promote literacy and a growing economy. According to Norrish, books are a special type of paper and it takes skills, time and money to create and distribute great books, which can make them unaffordable for most families, but getting many books to children when they’re very young can increase a child’s chances of success.
“A society that reads tackles problems of unemployment, poverty, and inequality better than a society that does not read. Reading is even more important for our educators to ensure that they serve as role models who instil the culture of reading in their learners,” wrote Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, outgoing vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Johannesburg, in an article covering 10 principles and we can reform and fix our education system.
Language and Literacy Barriers
According to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, nearly 80% of grade 4 learners in South Africa struggle with reading comprehension across all languages. This is reflected in low rates of leisure reading among both children and adults.
Only 2% of children’s books published in South Africa are in local African languages, which is a problem given that 8 out of 10 people in the country speak a home language that is not English or Afrikaans. The text suggests that creating relatable stories in indigenous languages is crucial for improving childhood literacy and fostering a love of reading among future generations.
“Books and access to them are crucial for early childhood development. Physical books in particular, are a critical way to help children develop their language and comprehension skills. Without them we could face a bleak future where our literacy rates are concerned,” concludes Molony.
More info about PAMSA
Established in 1992, the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) is the industry association that represents more than 90% of paper, packaging and tissue manufacturers in South Africa. Originally founded to serve the industry’s education and training needs, its action areas today span education and training, environmental stewardship, research and development and advocacy.
PAMSA supports its members by representing them in mutual and pre-competitive issues with government and other stakeholders. From climate change to carbon tax, water to waste and energy to innovation, the association promotes the sector’s contribution to the economy and society.
More info about Book Dash
Book Dash began in 2014 as a vision project among friends who wished to pool their collective skills in the publishing industry to flood the country with new, high-quality, affordable African picture books for all. Since then, we’ve created more than 100 books and distributed more than a million copies. We’ve also received multiple awards for our innovative approach and top quality open content. Qualifying organisations can apply to become distribution partners.
The Literacy Rate in South Africa
In case you did not know, the South African literacy rate reached 95.33% in 2021. Between 2010 to 2021, the literacy rate of South Africa decreased by 3.3%. South Africa actually has an adult literacy rate of 87% – ranking lower than other developing countries such as Mexico and Brazil.
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