In June 2020, the Mikhulu Trust ventured into new territory: online training for book-sharing facilitators. Ten librarians from the City of Cape Town attended this training – and now, as book-sharing facilitators, they have exciting visions on how this skill can impact their communities in the future.

The challenges of lockdown

Under normal circumstances, the Mikhulu Trust team heads out into Cape Town’s neighbourhoods to ‘teach teachers’ how to run book-sharing courses with parents and caregivers.

A group of librarians had been lined up to receive book-sharing training to give to parents and caregivers visiting their libraries – but when lockdown hit it seemed like it was about to be called off.

Lockdown presented challenges to families across South Africa. At the same time, the Mikhulu team were aware that these home-bound families had a ripe opportunity to book-share with their children. Puseletso, Mikhulu’s Training Coordinator, recognised that the need to ‘create meaningful conversation that develops children’s minds’ was even greater under lockdown.

Shifting into online territory

As with other organisations, the lockdown pushed the Mikhulu team to think about how to run its programmes in different, technology-based ways.

And so, in June 2020, ten librarians, dotted all over Cape Town, logged into their laptops and cell phones to start their online book-sharing facilitation course with Mikhulu! ‘Online education gives you the freedom to learn at your own pace,’ reflects Puseletso, who facilitated the online course.

Expanding a librarian’s power and role

‘As librarians we always read books with the children and do story telling – that was nothing new’, says Christelle – head of professional services and programmes, library and information services.. ‘But I’ve never really looked at my part as a trainer for parents before’.

The course has allowed librarians to think of the wider impact of their work, outside the walls of the library. ‘The connection between the parent and child is what we need to strive for as librarians: not just reading to the child, but preparing the parent for how they can do it when they get home’ reflects Christelle.

Realisations: Improving communities around them

Rowayda, a librarian at Lansdowne library, welcomed the idea that book-sharing ‘lays the foundation of early learning in a child’s development, and anyone can engage with the child, even someone with low literacy levels.’ This in turn is beneficial to the carer or parent too because ‘someone with lower literacy levels can also raise their literacy levels as they engage in book sharing’.

Kim, a librarian at Grassy Park library sees her new ability to facilitate book-sharing training as a tool to improve the wider community around her, and build a stronger future for all. ‘We are empowering the parents to develop their child’s literacy skills, while forging stronger relationships between the parent and child. The end result: a competent, confident and socially conscious child.’

An online community of their own

Training anyone to teach book-sharing is based very much on face-to-face human interaction. Nevertheless, a new kind of community seemed to emerge between Puseletso, who facilitated the training, and the librarians. This might not be a physical community, but together, through their laptops and phones, they formed an online community – which, as Puseletso highlights, is ‘especially important’ under lockdown.

Book-sharing in a post-lockdown world

The librarians who attended the training quickly realised the importance book-sharing has on our children’s futures – with public libraries serving as an important hub. ‘If we want to improve literacy levels in South Africa I think that book sharing is an ideal way to start’ reflects Tracey, the LIS children’s co-ordinator – ‘and it certainly has a place in future library programmes’.

The training seems to have set in motion a chain-reaction, and led Christelle to ‘think big’ in terms of librarians’ role in ECD. ‘If each librarian can do [book-sharing training] … our parents will take book sharing as a norm in their daily lives’, says Christelle. Buoyed by the success of the online training, Puseletso plans to do more online training with Mikhulu’s partners – even those further afield, such as Eastern Cape.

It might have brought tremendous difficulties, but lockdown has pushed Mikhulu to expand accessibility to its courses. And, at the end of the day, ‘it’s all about empowerment,’ says Kim. ‘It’s a continuous transferring of skills from facilitator, to parent, to child. Everyone in this chain will benefit.’

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Contact Info

Early Learning Centre, Athlone, Cape Town, 7764

Phone: +27 72 295 5959

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