Book Aid International is the UK’s leading library development charity working in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year the charity’s work benefits around 35 million people, through book provision, library development, teacher support and librarian training. In 2016 the charity is launching a brand new school libraries programme. We talked to the charity’s Communications Executive Jenny Hayes about why this programme is so vital.
Sophy Juma attends Magadi Primary School located in Manyatta informal settlement, a slum in Kisumu, Kenya. The school has little budget for books and Sophy’s parents cannot afford to buy the books she needs to support her studies. This is the same for many other pupils at her school. Book Aid International has partnered with Kenya National Library Service (knls) for decades, supplying books for its libraries, running projects and providing librarian training. Thanks to a partnership between Magadi Primary and the dedicated team of librarians at the knls Kisumu branch library, Sophy’s school enjoys a regular supply of books, enabling her and her fellow pupils to learn and progress in their schoolwork. The library also provides opportunities for pupils to visit and take part in reading competitions, book discussions and debates as well as use tablets and e-readers – all of which help enhance their reading skills. Sophy is a well-educated and articulate pupil who has worked her way up to become President at Manyatta Primary School and she recognises the part that books and the library have played in her education. She hopes to become a lawyer when she is older: ‘Our library is really helping us a lot because there’s books you can read. You can’t be the person you want to be in future without learning or going to school – education matters a lot.’ Thanks to the access to books she has, her ambition is within reach.
At Book Aid International we believe that books can change lives because we see the impact that books and reading have first-hand. I met Sophy on a recent trip to Kenya. Stories like hers are not unusual and there is much, much more to be done. Sophy is in a fortunate position in comparison to many of her contemporaries in sub-Saharan Africa. Across the continent, classrooms are filled with children like her, who are keen to learn, but their teachers often lack resources with which to bring their lessons to life. Pupils study from old, out-of-date books, often sharing one between ten, and have no further access to books at home. As a result, their reading confidence and ability remains low and this holds them back in their studies. We believe that children are the key to Africa’s future yet for many of them, the future isn’t nearly as bright as it should be due to this lack of books and resources.
Since the year 2000, many countries in Africa have made great strides in the provision of primary school places – the overall percentage of children enrolled in primary education has risen from 61 to 84 per cent. This is a huge leap, but inevitably leads to more children in the classroom, a higher pupil to teacher ratio, and the further stretching of resources including books.
To help meet this need, Book Aid International is working with its in-country partners to launch an ambitious four-year schools programme called Inspiring Readers, which we hope will improve reading opportunities for around 250,000 children across seven African countries. We have been working in partnership with libraries for more than 60 years and it is this experience – in particular our development of children’s library services in public libraries and school book provision projects – that we are using to develop this new programme.
Book Aid International’s in-house team of professional librarians will work with our partners to supply more than 300 pre-primary and primary schools with book box libraries filled with over 1,300 brand new, appealing, age-appropriate books, which have been generously donated by UK publishers, and copies of locally purchased titles. [A book box library is a portable school library – a box made specifically to hold several hundred books. It can be easily moved between classes and stored either in the corner of a classroom or an office.] Two teachers at each participating school will attend training with their local library in how to bring the books to life in their classrooms so that they and their pupils can make the most of this resource. Local libraries will also act as ‘hubs’ where schools can swap their books for new ones, take part in reading activities and where appropriate, make use of digital resources as well.
Through this programme, we hope that not only will children’s access to books in school increase, but that children will also make greater use of their local library where they’ll have access to an even broader range of books, vibrant library spaces and the passion and expertise of their local librarians. And we hope that it is not only the children themselves that benefit but also their teachers, families and wider communities, as a generation of children grow up with books they can read, enjoy and share. We look forward to a future where children in primary schools have the same opportunities as Sophy to excel, regardless of their background.
As Mary, the librarian at Kibera, Kenya, says, ‘The project will help children from disadvantaged areas to improve their school performance and develop in a reading culture. They will be in a position to compete with other children and they will be able to move forward with confidence. I believe they will do well because of this programme.’
 UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015
Inspiring Readers will launch in 2016.