Komani literacy activists sparking love of reading in young children

ADDRESSING CHALLENGES: Lelethu Pikoko, 24, from Newvale encourages parents to become active supporters of their children’s literacy learning Picture: SUPPLIED

If more parents become actively involved in the early literacy learning of their children, there would be a significant improvement in the state of literacy in South Africa.

This is according to literacy activists Lelethu Pikoko, 24, and Wendy Mtolo, 23, from Komani in Newvale and eMachibini, respectively.

Pikoko and Mtolo form part of a group of young change drivers, known as Story Sparkers, who are supporting 40 early childhood development (ECD) centres across Komani, East London and Tsholomnqa. The network of 10 Story Sparkers is part of Yizani Sifunde, a new literacy project designed to address some of the literacy challenges facing the Eastern Cape.

SHAPING CHILDREN’S FUTURE: Wendy Mtolo, 23, wearing yellow jacket, together with other young change makers is responsible for the smooth running of the Yizani Sifunde in Komani


Launched in April, Yizani Sifunde (isiXhosa for ‘Come, let’s read’) is funded by Liberty Community Trust and implemented in partnership with three prominent literacy NGOs: Nal’ibali, Book Dash and Wordworks. Its focus is on nurturing the early literacy foundations of very young children, setting them up well for when they learn to read and write at school.

As Story Sparkers, Pikoko and Mtolo support the ECD centres and reading clubs by delivering specially produced children’s books in isiXhosa and helping the staff to bring these books and stories to life in their classrooms.

The most important part of my work is encouraging parents to become active supporters of their children’s literacy learning, particularly at home. For children to thrive later in school and life, they need to be surrounded by caring adults who create safe and stimulating environments for them, filled with opportunities to play, imagine, listen to, think and talk about stories, both at home and at school,” says Pikoko.

For Mtolo, the best part of the work is playing a significant role in shaping the future of young children. Besides driving a positive change in her community, she says working with children is very satisfying as they are always eager and excited to learn. “I do wish more parents would express interest in their children’s literacy skills development. Children who are regularly supported at home show steadier and more consistent progress than those whose learning opportunities end in the classroom. This is a clear indication that if parents became more involved, there would be an increase in literacy rates,” she adds.

In addition, children who receive regular positive acknowledgement and encouragement from their caregivers are often happier and more emotionally stable. And, when children are exposed to great and well-told stories in languages they understand, they are motivated to learn to read and write for themselves. Research also shows that children who regularly read for pleasure perform better in the classroom, not just in languages, but across all subjects, regardless of their family’s social or financial standing.

Pikoko and Mtolo offer the following tips to parents looking for ways to be more involved in their children’s literacy learning:

  • Make time to read visually stimulating storybooks with your children every day. Bedtime storytelling is a great starting point. To access Nal’ibali’s free print and audio stories for children, visit: www.nalibali.org or WhatsApp ‘Stories’ to 060-044 2254.
  • Encourage your children to read stories that are appealing or relevant to them. Children will show more interest in stories they relate to. 500 free Book Dash books can be read online at bookdash.org/books in a variety of languages.
  • Make reading a fun and interactive exercise by pausing to stop and discuss the story with your children. You can also include singing and body movements. To access Wordworks home literacy programmes, including informal activities for children aged 0-8, and mini lessons for children in Grades R and 1, visit wwhomeliteracy.org.za

For more information about Yizani Siunde, contact Lindelwa Keswa on Lindelwa.k@nalibali.org

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