With September being National Literacy Month and International Literacy Day having taken place this past weekend (8 September), this important topic is in the spotlight.
Media has a vested interest in promoting literacy; after all the more people that can read, the more they can consume media content (no matter the platform).
But Josephine Buys, CEO of the Publisher Research Council, believes there should be much more of a focus on literacy for many more reasons. It is a passion of hers, and a cause she wants to work on – hopefully with the co-operation of and assistance from the rest of the media industry.
“I have recognised the privilege I’ve had of having an education…We are dealing with a legacy of illiteracy and young people are not being given the best tools to go out into the world and grab the opportunities many of us were given,” she says.
In President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address this year, he said government’s aim over the next decade was for every 10-year-old in South Africa to be able to read for meaning.
“Early reading is the basic foundation that determines a child’s educational progress, through school, through higher education and into the workplace,” he said.
“All other interventions – from the work being done to improve the quality of basic education to the provision of free higher education for the poor, from our investment in technical and vocational education training colleges to the expansion of workplace learning – will not produce the results we need unless we first ensure that children can read.”
But Buys doesn’t believe that government can achieve this goal on its own, and is calling on everyone – including the media industry, business, and civil society – to come together and co-operate for the greater good.
She’s concerned, though, that not enough campaigns are being run this month to counter the illiteracy issue, but sees this as an opportunity. “We should be embarking on a programme that we can start this month, and think about some goals and work towards them for Literacy Month 2020,” she says.
A possible starting point she mentions is supporting educators (find out what their needs are and then meeting them, particularly with resources).
A passion for the written word
This passion that Buys has for promoting literacy comes from her background and her love of the written word. She delivered newspapers when she was 11 years old, worked on a book stall when she was 14, and for many of her adult years she has assisted in fundraising for vulnerable and orphaned children.
“Being literate and having that background of a passion for the written word were stepping stones that carried me on my journey and I think it’s important that we give that to the children of our country and continent, because they’re our future. They’re our future leaders,” she stresses.
The power of the written word
Buys believes the power of the written word is “the truth”. She points to fake news videos which have been increasingly making the rounds, adding, “We have a job as the media, we share that responsibility with the government, to ensure that people get the true news. The real story. And if you’re able to read, it gives you the advantage of being able to check the source and whether it really happened.”
Buys is willing to co-ordinate these efforts and spearhead them, and she believes that collectively results can be achieved. She’s willing to do the footwork, but needs support.
“Illiteracy is disabling children for their future potential, and that’s where I believe we need to make an impact now to futureproof the good literacy health of our children…We all benefit from having a nation who can read,” Buys powerfully sums up.
If you are willing to aid in her efforts, you can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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