At the end of the 1980s the Centre for Adult Education (CAE) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was involved in many significant non-formal community education and development projects. Adult illiteracy posed a serious barrier to the success of these efforts and to the liberation movement as a whole.
Staff at CAE worked towards the development of adult literacy and basic education in a variety of ways. Dr Elda Lyster’s research highlighted the lack of books in local languages which could be used to develop reading fluency, in 1991 she raised donor funding to develop and publish easy to read books for adults. The books were for adults who were learning to read in isiZulu and/or English as a second language. This was to be a two-year project which would produce 30 books, but it has gone on to much bigger things.
New Readers Publishers (NRP) currently has an active list of 107 titles in all South African languages and has distributed over 350 000 books nationally and internationally.
The aim of the project is to make a contribution to an increase in adult literacy and the promotion of a reading culture. It does this through:
- Developing, publishing and distributing easy to read books;
- Offering free writing and editing workshops to aspirant authors (150 people have attended Writing and Editing workshops); and
- Offering free workshops for educators and librarians and community development workers on promoting reading (600 people have attended Promoting Reading workshops).
NRP is the only remaining nonprofit publisher of easy to read books in the country. It has survived this long mainly due to the support of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Donor funding for adult literacy work in South Africa is scarce and current income from book sales is insufficient to sustain the work of the project in the long-term. There are many and varied reasons for low income from sales, these include the decline in the global publishing industry, prohibitive submission fees, onerous administrative burdens in school book procurement process and the lack of a reading culture in South Africa. There are particularly low sales of titles in local languages because of the dominance of English and a lack of real interest and commitment to developing reading in local languages.
Adult illiteracy continues to exacerbate existing problems and hampers development efforts whether in rural areas or in urban informal settlements. The challenge for NRP is to maintain efforts to develop adult literacy in local languages which is the first step towards participation in development initiatives.
Despite the many challenges, there are various opportunities – like a growing recognition of the effectiveness of developing the literacy of the whole family, a new emphasis on academic learning in African languages at tertiary level and a renewed focus on the language policy in primary schools.
If these opportunities turn into adequately-funded African language development programmes, NRP can contribute cheap and appropriate books in all South African languages (designed to develop reading fluency) and can deliver training and capacity-building workshops for writers, teachers/community development facilitators and librarians.
NRP will launch four original stories in isiXhosa at Wordfest in Grahamstown at the end of this month. These stories were written in a Writers’ workshop for isiXhosa writers. Details of these books are available on the NRP website.
To view New Readers Publishers in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here.