Young teacher’s drive to fight illiteracy through storytelling receives high praise

A 22-year-old primary school teacher has been praised for penning a book to help children become proficient readers, especially considering that 81% of grade 4 pupils in South Africa cannot read for meaning. 

The author, Vuyisile Mahlobo, participated in a forum of authors at the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) in Mbombela during a Literary Renaissance roundtable.

 Mahlobo is a former student at the university’s Siyabuswa campus in the Highveld and  teaches at Phiva KwaJelusa Primary School in Phiva Village, outside of Malelane.

The Department of Basic Education commissioned a University of Pretoria study in May, which revealed that 81% of Grade 4 students are having trouble reading for comprehension at the age of 10. 

This was the South African portion of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2021. Such statistics have saddened Mahlobo, but also inspired her to take action in order to prevent South African children from being left behind.

“As a teacher in the foundation phase, I’ve observed that our school children cannot read or write. They commit numerous elementary errors, such as combining vowels. This causes me concern because when they read a word, it makes no sense,” Mahlobo said. “I realised that the problem begins with us foundation phase teachers, as the literacy rates of grade 4 pupils are a direct reflection on us because these children’s parents entrust us with their care.”

The author of Joyful Stories stated that she chose to use storytelling as a creative method to spark the interest of the pupils she teaches.

“I observed that storytelling is effective, so I decided to publish a book that can be disseminated beyond the school’s walls. I am writing a children’s book in isiSwati to generate interest in our indigenous languages,” she said.

 Mahlobo’s dedication to encouraging reading among the nation’s youth impressed everyone in attendance, including students who want to be authors.

“What Vuyisile is doing is inspiring, as I have a 15-year-old illiterate brother at home. We have siblings that are younger than him, but they are able to read and write. Meeting this author has inspired me to consider inventive ways to encourage my brother to begin reading. I believe children’s books will serve as a foundation for his educational journey,” said Khanyi Mndawe, a first-year student at UMP pursuing a bachelor’s degree in development studies.

 Mlungisi Matsebula, a presenter and producer of SABC Education on Ligwalagwala FM, expressed his eagerness to support children’s book authors.

“I am ecstatic that the University of Mpumalanga has opened its doors to creatives, particularly during this Heritage Month in which we celebrate writing as a means of preserving history. We are advocating for African authors who can tell African stories in an African way,” said Matsebula.

 Bobo Lukhele, the leader of Beehive, a non-governmental organisation that promotes reading, expressed pride in authors who recognise the right of minors to read and write.

“I find it encouraging that extracurricular reading is treated seriously. At home, there must be something for children to read,” said Lukhele, adding that it is crucial for authors to contemplate writing children’s books in indigenous languages.

Lebogang Sithole, UMP student development officer at the Mbombela campus, stated the Student Society Chapters Book Club is an integral element of one of the extracurricular activities.

UMP’s dean of students Dr Paul Maminza was pleased with the event’s success. 

“We are happy to see our former student from the Siyabuswa campus contributing positively to the development of our society.” 

Lungelihle Dlamni, the coordinator of the UMP Chapters Book Club, urged other authors to follow in Mahlobo’s footsteps.

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