Six-year-old Tebogo Tsotetsi’s feet barely reached the floor when seated, but in his hands were books that children nearly double his age couldn’t read.
It didn’t take the dedicated librarians from the Imperial and Ukhamba Community Development Trust long to work out that the six-year-old learner from Finetown in Johannesburg had a special gift.
His teacher was asked if he was getting the attention he deserved; her response prompted the trust to move him to a school where he wouldn’t get lost in the system.
Tebogo is now in Grade 2 at Lenasia Muslim School; thriving and scoring top marks in all areas. He is one of at least five township learners – one of them a spelling bee champion – identified so far by the trust to be moved to independent schools, with the backing of private benefactors.
It didn’t take the librarians long to work out Tebogo had a special gift
What started in 2003 as an initiative by Imperial Holdings to improve maths and science outcomes at schools has developed into a R60 million-plus educational project that has seen the establishment of 29 school libraries, primarily in under-privileged communities south of Johannesburg.
Tebogo’s mother, Loretta, is very grateful: “Tebogo loves his school and is getting full marks in all his subjects. He is allowed to realise his potential. But it’s not just about the marks. The school worries about the ‘small’ stuff – his homework, extra reading for enrichment, that sort of thing.”
Teacher Amina Rajan is very happy with Tebogo’s adjustment and progress. “He’s really intelligent. He has a number of very good friends. But at his young age he still has a bit of maturing to do.”
“The school worries about the ‘small’ stuff – his homework, extra reading for enrichment, that sort of thing.”
When asked if he still reads ‘big’ books, Tebogo proudly brings out two books from the corner library – The Last of the Mohicans and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The Imperial libraries are open daily until 4pm, as well as on three Saturdays of every month. Each child from Grade 1 to 3 must attend two compulsory reading periods every week.
The project sponsors book clubs, book quizzes and spelling competitions. It has also developed a board game that assists learners to read an atlas.
Reading levels, tested every two years, show that the compulsory reading programmes and related activities are contributing to better than average reading, comprehension and numeracy scores. In the past, township schools failed to reach the reading levels achieved by suburban schools. However, in the competitions held by the trust today, four awards out of five go to township schools.
Each child from Grade 1 to 3 must attend two compulsory reading periods every week
The trust, which works together with the department, invests in the buying of books and the renovations required to convert the premises into a library. Funds from corporates are used to support other activities such as prizes for the reading competitions and upgrades to Grade R classrooms.
The broader spin-offs of the project are the jobs it creates.
Says executive manager of trust, Shayda Arbee: “Our library assistants are sourced from the local communities and are unemployed people who have completed matric. We provide them with in-house training.”
Other jobs created by the project include the covering of the library books by university students, a service provider that does all the signage for the libraries and the builder that undertakes the library renovations and who now owns a car and employs workers to assist him.
By the end of 2017, the trust aims to have reached 35 000 learners and employed 79 people.
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