For the first time in the school’s long history, every child at the Sizwile School for the Deaf in Dobsonville, Soweto spends one period a week in a new library stocked with over 1000 books. The selection gives them access to books across every imaginable genre. For deaf and hard of hearing children who are excluded from so much that we take for granted in the hearing world, this is a tremendous gift.
Social Innovations has worked with the school to bring the library life with the generous backing and sponsorship of LegalWise.
We have worked closely with the school to make the library an active, vibrant space – but from the day the structure was put up – we have planned for the day when we as the funders would walk away and leave behind a resource that worked without our support.
This goal was brought one step closer with the support of Janine le Roux Senior Education Specialist: Library Services at the Department of Basic Education’s Johannesburg West District who, with her team, are working with the librarian to ensure that each and every books is correctly catalogued and that the layout of the library lends itself to books being easily found and discovered.
There are twenty functional school libraries in the Department of Basic Education’s Johannesburg West district. It’s a good start, but considering there are about 160 schools in the district, only 13% of them have a functional library. “By functional, I mean there is a warm body managing the library,” says le Roux.
She is one of five such specialists who support school libraries. While there are 15 districts in the Gauteng Department of Basic Education, 10 of the posts for district wide library support are vacant.
In 2013 the Minister of Basic Education published legally binding Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Despite the fact that these norms and standards are a requirement of the SA Schools Act, only about 7% of state schools have functional libraries.
The minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure document requires all state schools to have a library or media centre – but the guidelines are scant. Beyond requiring the library to have a “minimum, adequate and suitable school library collection”, it offers little further guidance.
Luckily for the children of Sizwile, the school is an exception. The library functions thanks to the support of a sponsor, the rare support of the district office and the entrepreneurial spirit of the school management team that has managed to raise the money to fund a librarian’s salary.
There are many things needed to transform a dusty book room into a functional library integrated into a school’s academic programme, but a “warm body” who manages the space is critical. Post 1994 school librarian posts were abolished, and many libraries were dismantled. “Within our district the librarians are either sponsored, or we have 13 young people who completed a learnership through the ETDP Seta to become library assistants,” says le Roux. However the stipends for these assistants have only been committed to by the Department to the end of 2017. It is unclear what will happen to these posts – and to the libraries – beyond this.
At Social Innovations we believe that every child has the right to a school library. More libraries are not going to come about without the support of funders. For any company wondering how to spend its social investment money, this is a perfect opportunity. The trick is to find a school with a management team that will support the library and integrate it into the life of the school. And if that district has a Janine le Roux – all the better.
We work with the funder to find the most suitable school in the most suitable district – and we work with the school to ensure that every child visits the library every week.
After all, it is their right.