History and Background
Established by Dr Neville Alexander in 1992, PRAESA emerged from the struggle against apartheid education, intending to document alternatives that had been tried out that could inform the new education process. Circumstances since 1995 focused the project’s work on language policy in education – especially the key area of language-in-education policy implementation. Focal areas of work until 2011 included language planning and policy formulation at national and provincial government levels, in-service teacher education, developmental research into multilingual classrooms, early literacy teaching and learning, promoting a culture of reading, facilitating storybook and other reading materials for use in multilingual settings, dual-medium primary schooling, language surveys.
Since 2006, a particular concentration has been on reading promotion through the establishment of community based reading clubs. In particular, the Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa, has become a model for other reading clubs in the Western Cape and beyond. Neville Alexander retired from PRAESA in at the end of 2011 and in 2012, PRAESA begins a new phase, with a biliteracy development focus by initiating a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign called Nal’ibali, in partnership with Times Media, and supported by the DG Murray Trust.
The South African Context
Because South Africa, like the rest of Africa, is multilingual, any serious thinking about and action for literacy development and supporting reading and writing habits, has to take place from within a multilingual frame of reference. We know that most South Africans want (and perhaps need) to be proficient in English because of the immediate and obvious economic and social benefits of English. But this does not mean that children have to leave their ‘mother tongue/s’ at home either in grade 1 or at the end of grade 3. A well run mother tongue based bilingual system provides the best of both worlds for all children, where teachers and children communicate in a language they command and understand, thereby offering the potential for an emotionally and intellectually satisfying connection to learning.
Literacy learning can take place in any language and it is the democratic right of all South African children to use their mother tongues not only to learn the formal school curriculum, but to also access the wonders, mysteries and satisfaction of stories – told and read. PRAESA strives to help enable conditions for learning, inside and outside of school, which motivate children and adults to want to read and write – and enable them to actually do so – in African languages and in English.
To this end, we concentrate on:
- research and development programmes about bilingualism and biliteracy in early childhood education
- raising the status of the (official) African languages for oral and written language functions in society
- mentoring adults to deepen understandings and appreciation of the value of becoming reading and writing role models for children of all ages and supporting their growing understandings and strategies for achieving this
- initiating the development of materials for use with babies and children in multilingual situations, through original writing and translation.