Parents must nurture love of reading, say activists

Discussing the importance of libraries at schools, from left, are Modderdam High’s former principal, Desmond Snayers; journalist, author and activist Zubeida Jaffer; and political activist Professor Faried Esack.

Libraries play a big role in helping children to read, but even more important are parents who read themselves.

This emerged from a panel discussion at the book fair held at Modderdam High, in Bonteheuwel, on Saturday.

The school’s former principal, Desmond Snayers, asked journalist, author, and activist Zubeida Jaffer and political activist Professor Faried Esack where Modderdam High School fitted in with the promotion of literacy and libraries.

“When we hear ‘library’, we think that it means reading and writing. The question I ask is, are libraries still relevant? Does the education system place libraries somewhere on the agenda? Do they provide resources? what strategies are planned?”

Professor Esack, who grew up in Bonteheuwel, said that during his childhood a mobile library had visited the area, taking in five children at a time, before a library had been built. And the new library had met with much enthusiasm because children had wanted to read. Now people asked why children did not read, and a simple answer was that parents needed to have books at home.

“Everyone’s on their phones – at dinner, at functions, at events. No one speaks and no one reads. But you should never underestimate what you as an individual can do to bring back the enthusiasm of reading and the importance of attending a library.”

Parents should set an example for their children in all things, including reading, he said, asking, “Do you read?”

People had many excuses for not reading, and the lack of public libraries was the top one, he said. And here he conceded that government was struggling with the deterioration of public libraries and that many resource-strapped schools were still expected to share those same resources with growing numbers of pupils.

“The pot got bigger, but the ingredients were limited. The food got more watery as they tried to stretch it, and there was not enough foresight to manage the ingredients properly and keep it nutritious. But, on the other side, the pot got bigger, so we learned to share. There was a greater push for creativity in the education system.”

He added: “We are living in an era where discrimination is not allowed. Women no longer tolerate abuse. Each person today has something to give. What we need now are pupils who challenge, organise and question activists.”

Ms Jaffer said schools had not had libraries in the past, but teachers had worked with what they had to make sure children could read. Libraries were important, but the examples adults set for children were even more so, she said.

“Teachers are the ones who have the children’s future in their hands. We complain about the difficulties we have, but 30 years ago we would not have had an opportunity to have a book fair. We won’t give up on children being enthusiastic about reading, but it must start earlier, perhaps at a pre-school level,” she said.

There were still many challenges, she said, but now schools were more inclusive and better resourced and people could pursue careers that would have been unable to before.

“We are definitely moving forward, but we do not see that because we are more focused on problems. Teachers who have broader shoulders must push and pull the car forward. Be that extra little bit in any organisation not only at a school. The more the better. Principals must realise how important it is to have those go-getters amongst the staff. Try to work forward and forget about negativity.”