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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:



Schools with no library or facilities for a library

Schools with space for a library, but no books

Schools with functional libraries





North West












Free State




Northern Cape




Eastern Cape




KwaZulu Natal




Western Cape




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.

President Jacob Zuma places education and skills development at the centre of the South African government’s policies

South African President Jacob Zuma, placed education and skills development at the centre of the South African government’s policies in his State of the Nation Address on 11 February 2010. He announced a number of key activities that will be undertaken to achieve this.

In the government’s 2010 programme, it wants to improve the ability of children to read, write and count in the foundation years. 
The government wants learners and teachers to be in school, in class, on time, learning and teaching for seven hours a day. Teachers will be assisted by providing detailed daily lesson plans. Students will be provided with easy-to-use workbooks in all 11 languages.

Zuma also announced that from this year onwards, all grade 3, 6 and 9 students will write literacy and numeracy tests that are independently moderated. The aim is to increase the pass rate for these tests from the current average of between 35 and 40% to at least 60% by 2014. Results will be sent to parents to track progress.

In addition, each of the country’s 27 000 schools will be assessed by officials from the Department of Basic Education. This will be recorded in an auditable written report.

The government aims to increase the number of matric students who are eligible for university admission to 175 000 a year by 2014,  he continued.
He urged parents to cooperate with the government in making this a success. He also welcomed last month’s statement by the three teacher unions, NAPTOSA, SADTU and SAOU, reaffirming their commitment to the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign from the beginning of 2010.

Zuma further stressed the need to invest in the youth to ensure a skilled and capable workforce to support growth and job creation. He then announced a plan to increase the training of 16-25 year olds in further education and training facilities to provide a second chance at education, for those who do not qualify for university.

The government is working with higher education institutions to ensure that eligible students obtain financial assistance, through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, he said.

He also announced that the government has set ambitious targets for skills development, to produce additional engineers and technicians, and to increase the number of qualified mathematics and science teachers.

Zuma also stressed that the number of youth who enter learnerships in the private and public sectors, should be increased.

To read the full State of the Nation Address on IOL Click Here!