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School libraries a human right?

The Department of Basic Education was recently accused of having no co-ordinated plans or support for school libraries. This came out in a debate on school libraries held at the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA),  and attended by representatives of the education departments, universities, librarians and the organisation Equal Education.

Th issue of school libraries came to the fore when thousands of pupils countrywide protested peacefully for school libraries in March this year.

Equal Education started last year with a national campaign for school libraries because only 7 % of South Africa’s 28 000 schools have functional libaries.

One of the pupils at the Luhlaza Secondary School in Khayelitsha summmarized the feeling most pupils have, when she described school libraries as a basic “right”. Many problems were pointed out, for instance the overcrowding in public libraries, scarcity of books and resources to assist pupils with assignments, excessive travel costs to get to these libraries, and the understaffing of these libraries.

Dr Jennifer Joshua, involved with early childhood development in the Department of Basic Education acknowledged that libraries and information services at schools have huge challenges. According to her the National Treasury made R2 billion available for infrastructure development which includes libraries, laboratories and more classrooms. She also referred to “National Guidelines for Libraries” which will soon be distributed to provinces and districts. These “guidelines” will focus among other things on the obligation to expand services, the training of personnel, the protection of resources and alternative methods of service delivery, for example mobile and classroom libraries.

Education officials from Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal emphasized the problem of communication (they get no feedback or support on the issue of school libraries) from the National Department. Since 1997 there were 5 concept policies on school libraries, but nothing official.

Mr Alan Thomson of the National Teachers Union (Natu) stressed that school libraries will never get of the ground or function effectively if the onus rests on teachers to manage it. Various librarians have shown that to manage a library, is a full time vocation. He suggests that the Department must investigate that possibility to bring these posts back to schools.

Mr Graeme Bloch of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) said a national campaign for school libraries is necessary, and that the government will have to start implementing its plans for it.

The state of school libraries in South Africa is illustrated in the following table:

 

Province

Schools with no library or facilities for a library

Schools with space for a library, but no books

Schools with functional libraries

Gauteng

835

789

366

North West

1399

220

111

Mpumalanga

1595

182

116

Limpopo

3740

198

97

Free State

1262

271

148

Northern Cape

424

104

71

Eastern Cape

5179

378

166

KwaZulu Natal

4677

841

359

Western Cape

697

387

367

This posting was translated from an Afrikaans article by Alet Rademeyer “Skoolbiblioteke is ‘n reg’ in the Printed Beeld Newspaper of 9 April 2009, p.15.

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