As the 10am breaktime bell sounds at Walmer Primary School, Shine Literacy Centre volunteer Pat Hibbert opens up the shipping container housing a tiny library. Shelves have a small collection of donated books, with newspapers and magazines neatly stacked in boxes.
School dog Rex is sniffing around the fence.
She pages through an encyclopaedia until she finds a page showing farm implements.
“I leave this book open for them at different pages so that they can learn something new each week. Last week, volunteers came to plant trees so we were looking at trees. This week we will look at tractors and other farm implements,” she said. “A few weeks ago we looked at road signs. The kids loved it.”
Hibbert, a former school secretary, teaches the joy of reading. She brings blankets for children if they are cold and sometimes just provides a quiet place for them to gather themselves if they are upset.
Konwaba Nthuthumbo, 13, and his best friend Kwakhanya Skosana, 11, solemnly carry out a little table, two chairs and their two boxes of library cards. Both are prolific readers and have offered to help Hibbert with the administration of “their library”.
“They take their jobs very seriously,” she said. “They are in charge of the library cards that allow pupils to take out books. I don’t have to teach them much about taking responsibility, but I teach them about being kind. They get angry if people are not returning books,” she said.
“We do receive books some days that should go to the intensive care unit. But we do what we can,” Hibbert said. The covers of those that cannot be saved are used to decorate the little library.
At another table, Jobanatha Mkaza, 12, helps pupils check out books.
Many of the kids want to help.
“There are only so many times you can wipe a book down,” Hibbert laughed, “but I am trying to give everybody a chance.”
The library has been open for close to a year and its membership has grown to 845 pupils.
“When it is break time, they come to read. Sometimes they finish a book when they have time and then they come back during their 10-minute short break to get some more books,” Hibbert said.
“I absolutely love how the kids sell the library to their friends. You have one kid signing up from a class and the next day there will be 12 more lining up for library cards.”
“I try to teach the kids to take out a book to learn something new and then also to take out a storybook just to enjoy. Many of the older kids who never read check out books for toddlers and babies. They like to start there. Even the parents love this library. Children often say they will return the book as soon as their dads have finished reading it,” she said.
The plastic container with the books that have been returned empties quickly. “They are our very popular books,” she said.
She also gives children “word finding” games to play, to teach them the quiet sounds in English and they bring them back for her to check. Everybody gets a high five.
In 2014 a national assessment done by the Eastern Cape Department of Education showed that learners in the foundation phase grades could not read at an age-appropriate level. The department implemented a number of strategies including reading programmes and a phonics programme for the foundation phase.
Karen Jack runs the classroom, staffed by volunteers next door. They are assisting Grade 3 learners with English.
“We found that when the kids are promoted to Grade 4 and suddenly have to be taught in English they find it very difficult. Volunteers assist two learners each to make sure that their English is up to standard.
Hibbert said she believed books are the best friends for anybody to have. “It is also the best and the fastest way to learn English. We have a few prolific readers already. They are making their way through all the books,” she said.
She has put up a large display of postcards showing Port Elizabeth’s most beautiful sights.
“I want them to know what their city looks like.”
She said she was also encouraging a spirit of volunteering among learners.
“I have seen with my own children, that if they are willing to volunteer to help at school, they make the switch from primary school to high school easier,” she said.
Eastern Cape Education Department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said he was not sure what the present status of school libraries in the province was. MC
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