Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief


PRAESA and Nal'ibali - It starts with a story!

Category: Creative Learners | Early literacy and numeracy development | 23 July, 2013 - 12:00


PRAESA was established in 1992 as a unit attached to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Cape Town. It emerged in response to the general struggles against the system of Apartheid education in the country. We at PRAESA believe in the importance of language development for improved communication.

We also acknowledge that irrespective of language, socio-economic or cultural background, there are certain pre-conditions necessary for any child to apply him/herself with the understanding and knowledge needed to become a reader and a writer.

  • First, children need to hear and discuss stories with caring adults
  • Second, these adults need to impart to the children positive values associated with hearing and reading stories.
  • Third, the children need to learn how to comprehend and make meaning from the stories, and relate the stories to their own lives or contexts.
  • Finally, children need to learn to read and write stories themselves.

PRAESA has conceptualized a long-term national literacy initiative with the aim to motivate and support the notion and practice of reading-for-enjoyment. We aim to spark a positive connection and create opportunities for bonding around stories between adults and children. This offers a way to increase children’s opportunities to learn to read and write in satisfying and successful ways. Our reading campaign is called Nal’ibali, which means, “Here’s the story” in isiXhosa. It means: persuading and supporting adults across the nation that they have an active role to play in children’s literacy learning.


We have a vision of a literate society that uses reading and writing in meaningful ways. In such a society, children and adults enjoy stories and books together as part of daily life. Instilling a desire to hear and tell stories draws on, and deepens, the way all humans organise memories and reflect on experiences. The Nal’ibali slogan, it starts with a story, captures an appreciation of the power of narrative – for empathising and bonding with one other, for developing language literacy, and for growing our intellectual and emotional capacity.

When the practices of storytelling and reading do not happen regularly at home or at school, we can create reading clubs in community spaces, where adults give their time constructively to nurture children through story telling and reading.


Nal’ibali has two major intertwining elements: (1) A face-to face partnership programme to build and support a network of community-based reading clubs; and (2) a broad, societal advocacy campaign using print and digital media. Each element informs and supports the growth of the other element in an integrated way. For example, we celebrate and report progress in reading clubs to inform the advocacy campaign, and we use the campaign materials to inspire and motivate the reading clubs. The campaign and reading materials are producing in a number of African languages and in English in order to reach a wide audience.

The Nal’ibali campaign is a success because we hired an independent consult to conduct formative research; we appointed a programme manager to manage the face-to-face team; we started the reading clubs and a training program together; and we recruited and trained six cluster mentors to lead all provincial Nal’ibali activities.

  • An independent consult conducted formative research in communities of the Western Cape, Gauteng, and KZN in order to ascertain the interest and potential ‘buy-in’ for Nal’ibali among people who did not have, and those who did have experience with, reading clubs. The consultant reported great enthusiasm for getting more support and help with existing clubs, and for learning how to initiate new ones.
  • We appointed a programme manager to manage the face-to-face team. This gave us the opportunity to refine our project plan and to build a more comprehensive programme scaffold.
  • We started reading clubs and training at the same time, which allowed us to adapt the training to the reading-club needs as they arose: In January 2012 our reading club and training programme began in four communities in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal. This was done with the assistance of two types of partnerships:

A) Partnerships with mentoring organisations that we supported to set up and run a reading club. We held a total of 15, two-day mentoring and training workshops with 4 organisations. We also supplied them with books, visited their reading clubs to advise and support them, and conducted research.

B) Partnerships with regional training organisations that co-arranged and co-hosted quarterly, one-day regional mentoring workshops in each province. A total of 524 people attended these workshops and many new reading clubs were started and joined the Nal’ibali network.

  • We are currently strengthening our national and provincial capacity to activate more reading clubs, provide mentorship, support the reading club leaders, and offer decentralised training to organisations and individuals interested in the reading for enjoyment campaign.
  • We are in the process of recruiting and training six cluster mentors, who will lead all provincial Nal’ibali activities. Additionally, we will recruit and pay six so-called ‘Story Sparkers’ to activate and strengthen new and existing reading clubs. They are responsible for providing on-going mentorship and support for 60 volunteer reading club leaders.


Promoting our materials and our project vision has meant establishing a number of successful partnerships. These partnerships are effective because we have adopted a “face-to-face” strategy with our partners. This means that our relationships are well nurtured – a process that involves strong co-ordination, systematic communication, and sharing of information, events, activities.

In 2012 we branded Nal’ibali, using the artistic imagination of Rico (from Madam and Eve) to create several characters to give Nal’ibali a special identity. We developed and refined content for our website and Facebook platforms and these went live in June.

In partnership with Times Media we produce an 8-page bilingual supplement, which is available twice weekly during the school term.

In partnership with others we have developed a mobisite, which widely delivers our reading content to a range of teenagers and adults.

Our readers speak a diversity of languages and we have partnered with organisations like Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans to translate our readings supplements into Afrikaans and into Sesotho.

We have also partnered with Volkswagen SA’s preschool centre in Uitenhage, who are one of our hosting partners. We have provided their staff with mentoring and training to help them to set up a reading club for local community members and their children in the afternoons.


We recognise the need to develop ways to help reading clubs equip themselves with sufficient and appropriate reading materials. This is a challenge for many reading clubs, but we have found that the following solutions help tackle this problem:

Our newspaper supplements are available in hard copy and also for download on the Nal’ibali website.

To tackle the shortage of books, we supply packs of books to partner reading clubs. We also provide information and training to the reading clubs so that they begin to access books for themselves.

In partnership with Wimpy we have distributed 120 000 Nal’ibali-Wimpy co-branded storybooks to reading clubs and schools. These books contain stories using the Nal’ibali characters.

Some teachers are already using our newspaper supplement to support the Literacy Half Hour in their school. The supplement provides a regular and constant supply of information and tips to adults. It includes a picture story that teachers can cut out and keep, and a “read-aloud” story with accompanying suggestions for follow up activities.

By the end of 2013, we will complete the production of a set of 24 story cards that are available in several languages, and will distribute these to our reading clubs. They will also be available for download on web and mobisite.


In 2012, we initiated a monitoring and evaluation system (in partnership with the UCT Institute for Monitoring and Evaluation) that ensures the collection of data for all aspects of the programme right from its first year.

A key challenge to address is how to document and provide evidence of the motivation and change of behaviour that is required to support the strengthening of reading habits.

We plan also to conduct a series of qualitative studies to illustrate the connections between reading for joy/information and learning to read.

University of Cape Town, Room 19, Arts Block, Rondebosch

 (021) 650-3589

In Short

In this learning brief PRAESA provides an exemplary lesson on how to successfully partner with multiple organisations in order to (1) develop and implement a community-level reading campaign; (2) design and distribute appropriate reading materials to children’s reading-clubs; and (3) effectively market and brand a nation-wide literacy campaign using newspaper and radio media outlets. PRAESA’s Nal’ibali campaign presents a lesson in successful project implementation because the campaign was guided by formative research, a strong program manager, cluster mentors that managed all provincial Nal’ibali activities, and the simultaneous launch of reading clubs and associated training.

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