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FAWEZA's mobile libraries: Enhancing reading culture

Libraries on Wheels

Published on 24 September 2011

Author(s): Times of Zambia/CHUSA SICHONE

Type:  Feature

Lack of access to reading materials is one of the contributing factors to the poor reading culture

By THERE is a common cliché which says “If you want to hide something from an African, put it in a book,” insinuating that Africans generally have a poor reading culture. Zambia too has not been spared from that.

Lack of access to reading materials is one of the contributing factors to the poor reading culture and the current national priority of expanding access to Basic and High School education has meant that there are more pupils in dire need of books which requires other partners in education to complement Government efforts in providing these much needed reading materials particularly at high school level.

It is for that reason therefore that the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWEZA) in July, 2004 introduced Mobile Libraries also known as Libraries on Wheels, an initiative which Government has recently extended to the health sector via the introduction of Mobile Hospitals currently greatly benefiting the masses around the country.

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) bought the first Mobile Library used in Lusaka and the Embassy of Netherlands bought the other two operating in Kabwe and Ndola. FAWEZA is conducting pilot projects in the three provinces.

Following a partnership FAWEZA entered into with Book Aid International (BAI) in 2007, the project has provided access to quality books relevant to the high school curriculum, particularly Sciences and Literature books which are scarce and too expensive to procure.

The pilot projects were preceded by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between FAWEZA and the Ministry of Education (MoE) to formalise the collaborative partnership with Government besides giving FAWEZA the legitimacy to enter the public education institutions to undertake innovations with a potential to increase girls’ participation rates.

The objectives of the Mobile Library are to provide educational material that stimulate research and broaden pupils’ knowledge base, foster a culture of reading, including recreational reading among high school pupils and provide teachers with extra teaching and reference materials to improve the quality of teaching and ultimately improve the school leaving examination results.

And owing to the success of the pilot project, FAWEZA handed over a fully-stocked four -tonne truck to its Lusaka Provincial Chapter on July 7, 2011 at the Provincial Education Office (PEO).

Officiating at the handover ceremony, Lusaka Province Permanent Secretary Daniel Bowasi said the occasion marked a milestone in the partnership between the Government and FAWEZA and that the development ought to be supported by all well-meaning Zambians.

“Through this handover of the Mobile Library, FAWEZA has demonstrated in a very practical way that improving the quality of education is everyone’s responsibility.

“As an educationist myself, and a person that has followed the humble beginnings of FAWEZA, I am happy to note that FAWEZA has matured to a level where it is now in a position to contribute to the development of the reading culture in Zambia.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the benefits of reading cannot be over-emphasised. The Mobile Library initiative has now been recognised by the Zambian Government as a successful project for which FAWEZA is highly commended,” he said.

Mr Bowasi however observes that there are many provinces, Lusaka inclusive, and schools, which are currently not benefiting from the scheme and thus urges FAWEZA to aggressively mobilise resources for the scaling up of the vital initiative to many more districts.

He notes that it is not uncommon to find the pupil/teacher ratios that are as high as 10 pupils to one book citing some public high schools where the only books available are teachers’ reference books. Learners are totally dependent not only on their teachers’ proficiency to relay information from printed material, but that also on their own ability to learn by listening.

“The overall goal of the Mobile Library is to remedy this situation as well as to complement Government’s efforts in enhancing the quality of education through provision of relevant course and reference materials, teaching aids and books for pupils,” Mr Bowasi says.

Speaking at the same occasion, FAWEZA national secretary Florence Mfula said the project which started with one Mobile Library in Lusaka is currently servicing 44 high schools in Lusaka, Central and Copperbelt provinces. The Eastern Province Chapter is scheduled to be handed with a Mobile Library before the end of term two this year.

The three Mobile Libraries make fortnightly rounds during the school term and pupils are able to borrow a book for two weeks before the Mobile Library returns and thus enabling them to study both at school and at home. The Eastern Province Mobile Library will be the fourth.

Ms Mfula says the library book stock has increased from 4,017 in 2006 to over 21, 000 books and that owing to that increase, the annual target of beneficiaries also rose from 3, 478 in 2006 to about 18, 923 this year in the 44 High Schools. The statistics are expected to soar with the addition of Eastern Province.

Ms Mfula says books from BAI have made a significant contribution in enhancing the quality of learning at High School level in Zambia as having access to reading materials provided by the United Kingdom (UK)-based charitable organisation through the project have freed learners from total dependence on their teachers.

“The Mobile Library project has proved beyond doubt that books are an essential element to improving the quality of education,” she says.

She cites a comparative SSLE analysis results for the beneficiary cohort of 2004-2006 as having showed an average increase in pass rates by 6.3 percentage points compared to the 2003-2005 cohort of non-beneficiaries. The 2008 and 2009 results revealed that the 2009 FAWEZA-beneficiary pupils performed better than the non-beneficiaries of 2008.

“Ladies and gentlemen, what the Mobile Library intervention has provided is a successful model that can be scaled up and a solid platform for advocating that local education managements replicate it and provide access to high school pupils located in various schools with critical reading materials.

“We urge the Government to seriously consider integrating the intervention in the mainstream curriculum so that many more learners will benefit from the resource,” Ms Mfula says.

For Lusaka Province Education Officer (PEO) Alice Nzala the day was a two-in-one function in that the province was receiving the Mobile Library and sharing of the joy owing to the province emerging as the overall winner at the recently held High School Ball Games in Chipata.

Ms Nzala in thanking FAWEZA for the gesture says Lusaka has already been exposed to the Mobile Library services during the trial run and that the value of the facility is highly appreciated as it contributes to the enhancement of education particularly in high schools.

Ms Nzala notes that during the trial period, a consultative meeting with various stakeholders was held in the fourth quarter of last year to discuss the sustainability of the programme and it was resolved that all participating schools would contribute K300,000 and participating pupils K1, 000 per year.

“This was perceived necessary for purposes of inculcating a spirit of appreciating the service and hopefully would result in better care for the books,” Ms Nzala says.

Zambia is making frantic efforts to get away from the negative reading culture Africans have been known for by the western world through initiatives such as FAWEZA’s and its national secretary believes that “it is undeniable that books change lives of people the world over. They not only stimulate learning, but open the world to most of us who may not have opportunities to physically travel to see the world.”

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