When Siya Masuku had a conversation with his mother, a teacher in Soweto, about how challenging it was to teach primary school children Zulu, he knew something had to change. Masuku says he and his siblings were always privileged enough to have access to books.
It sounds staggering, but Masuku increasingly found that the learning materials available to teachers – especially at primary level – are severely lacking and the conversation with his mother set in motion what would become a challenging but rewarding journey.
“There is a shortage of books written in Zulu, Xhosa, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati, or Ndebele. It is necessary to balance the language barriers in our literature, especially at primary level,” Masuku explains.
“Cross-cultural communication is also challenging at times because of a vast difference in language. It is very difficult to understand the world view of one culture while using the language of another,” he added.
“Siyafunda isiZulu (siyafunda means “we are learning”) is a book designed for Zulu speakers who are learning isiZulu at primary level and non-Zulu speakers of all ages.”
But while the initial idea – to create a beautifully illustrated alphabet book – was completed in just 10 months, the Siyafunda idea has already evolved.
Masuku is running a fund-raising campaign on Thundafund to take his project to the next level. While his ultimate goal is to get these books in all schools through a partnership with the Department of Education, he’s not letting these long processes slow him down. The fund-raising campaign will ensure a solid print run which will see one book donated to disadvantaged pupils for every 10 books sold.
Masuku’s dream is to raise R155,000, but he has set an interim goal of R35,000 which will provide 1,000 books to children who can’t afford Siyafunda.
But the idea doesn’t stop there. South Africa is becoming increasingly connected. While we might want to bash our heads in at wi-fi speeds most of the time, more and more South African neighbourhoods have access to free internet and Masuku is hoping to use this growing trend to expand on the book, which is where the rest of the funding will become useful.
He has started work on an interactive version of the book with additional modules which include stories, practical exercises, mathematical quizzes and games. In a collaborative effort with Danieteach.com, the book has been brought alive online. Through sound and narration, learning the Zulu language is made far easier and faster for those at primary level and those who are older and learning for the first time.
The most critical part of this project is to make learning easier for children. A study by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Umesco) shows that children’s first language is the optimal language for literacy and learning throughout primary school. According to globalpartnership.org, globally, there are 50-million to 75-million “marginalised” children who are not enrolled in school.
For native Zulu speakers, the idea of the book is to assist with improving vocabulary, association, pronunciation, reading and writing from a young age. This, in turn, will ensure that learning other subjects in Zulu later on is far easier.
Children whose primary language is not the language of instruction in school are more likely to drop out of school or fail in earlier grades and often resort to a life of crime or have limited employment opportunities.
But beyond the effect of using it as a tool for native and primary school Zulu speakers, the practical spin-off is that adults who are looking to expand their basic language skills could benefit too, especially from the interactive modules.
“One of our major goals is changing dominant world views that do not acknowledge diversity and hinder the development of alternative visions for a sustainable future,” Masuku explains.
And in a country as diverse as South Africa, we could all use a little bit of a nudge. DM
"There isn't a Monday that would not cede its place to Tuesday." ~ Anton Chekhov