Library project produces champion speller

06/10/2017 | By Admin

When township spelling bee participant Lesedi Tefane saw “the white learners” at the quiz, he was “nervous”. But his anxiety soon turned to joy when he was crowned the contest champion.

The win last year for the softly-spoken Grade 7 boy from Rekgutlile Primary in Orange Farm bears testimony not only to his talent and dedication but to the Imperial and Ukhamba Community Development Trust’s unique library project.

What started in 2003 as an initiative by Imperial Holdings to improve maths and science outcomes at schools has developed into a R60 million-plus educational project that has seen the establishment of 29 school libraries, primarily in under-privileged communities south of Johannesburg.

Lesedi is the fifth bright child to be identified by the trust and moved to a private school, with full sponsorship sourced from private benefactors. Lesedi will start at Al Aqsa Secondary School in Lenasia next year.

“Imperial made me see my talent,” said the Grade 7 learner. “Even my Gogo helped me here and there!” Lesedi lives with his grandmother in Orange Farm. His parents live in Soweto and work in the city, and he sees them only on weekends.

“Imperial made me see my talent,” said the Grade 7 learner. “Even my Gogo helped me here and there!

Lesedi’s big break came last year when he was in Grade 6 and qualified for the district level with eight other learners. “The word that got me to win the district level was the final word, ‘narcissistic’. I spelt it and knew I got it right when somebody lifted me off my feet from behind, and the hall exploded into applause.”

Next stop was the Department of Basic Education’s provincial contest in Gauteng. “It was the first time I ever stayed in a hotel; it was the best room I ever stayed in and I really liked the breakfast.

“But I was very nervous when I saw the white learners at the quiz. A lot of them were also much taller than me.”

After Lesedi’s provincial win, he went forward to the national finals where he came fourth.

The Imperial libraries are open daily until 4pm, as well as on three Saturdays of every month. Each child from Grade 1 to 3 must attend two compulsory reading periods every week.

The project sponsors book clubs, book quizzes and spelling competitions. It has also developed a board game that assists learners to read an atlas.

Reading levels, tested every two years, show that the compulsory reading programmes and related activities are contributing to better than average reading, comprehension and numeracy scores. In the past, township schools failed to reach the reading levels achieved by suburban schools. However, in the competitions held by the trust today, four awards out of five go to township schools.

“But I was very nervous and afraid when I saw the white learners at the quiz. A lot of them were also much taller than me.”

The trust, which works together with the department, invests in the buying of books and the renovations required to convert the premises into a library. Funds from corporates are used to support other activities such as prizes for the reading competitions and upgrades to Grade R classrooms.

The broader spin-offs of the project are the jobs it creates.

Says executive manager of trust, Shayda Arbee: “Our library assistants are sourced from the local communities and are unemployed people who have completed matric. We provide them with in-house training.”

Other jobs created by the project include the covering of the library books by university students, a service provider that does all the signage for the libraries and the builder that undertakes the library renovations and who now owns a car and employs workers to assist him.

By the end of 2017, the trust aims to have reached 35 000 learners and employed 79 people.

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