The reading programme is the backbone of the library programme as it addresses the very poor reading levels of learners in our partner schools. It is vital to bring their reading levels up to and even surpassing provincial and national norms. Libraries do not teach children to read. The expectation is that learners must be able to read (however rudimentary) at the outset.

The reality is that precious few learners are able to recognize basic words; in order to fast track these skills we introduced the reading programme for small groups within a class.

Formal reading assessments that we conducted at partner schools revealed a dire situation with scores bordering on semi- or illiteracy, and in most cases with a reading lag two to three years behind the age cohort.

In such a scenario even the brightest learners would struggle to cope with any school subject.


Together with principals and the management team, plans are made for compulsory reading classes from grade 1 to grade 4 (or beyond, depending on the size of the school.)

Our library assistants undergo rigorous training for the acquisition of on-the-job skills to mediate the reading programme and use of graded books and materials (flashcards, reading strips, bulk readers, etc.) for their small group sessions.

Two 30-minute reading periods per week are scheduled for grade 1-3s and one 30-minute period per week for the 4-7s.

Reading lessons concentrate on:

  • Phonetic awareness so that learners are able to decode and encode new words
  • Recognition of sight words
  • Pre-reading of pictures and illustrations to enhance the reading activity
  • Developing comprehension skills, and
  • Fluency and spelling

The small reading groups are rotated between the teachers and the library assistants to ensure each child benefits from the individual strengths of librarians and teachers.

Library assistants follow the plans designed and provided by the Trust to ensure progression in reading and comprehension. Additional reading resources are supplied that includes teaching aids, graded readers, reading strips, and comprehension passages.


Once a library resource centre is handed over to a school, one targeted outcome would be an improvement in the children’s reading, evidenced by better word attack skills and phonic awareness. Another equally significant consequence is the steady improvement in comprehension and spelling. Improvements in all subject areas - in other words, a more holistic development - are ensured if all things remain equal.

Insidious challenges to the process of learning and teaching in state schools are the twin devils of large class sizes and teacher competence. Most learners in a typical school struggle with the basics of reading, which renders the costly gift of a library a waste of time, money and effort. If a library is to become the hub of a school, then the process of preparing its youngest learners (those in the foundation phase) with the skills of reading is of critical urgency.

These learners have to first develop basic reading skills before the library can become a viable place where they can extend and expand this requirement. In order to achieve this, Imperial’s library assistants had to be trained to teach this competence. Once our staff was trained they were able to assist teachers and learners with the literacy programme.

It was not by accident that we introduced the reading programme and enrichment activities with the concomitant staff development programmes into the literacy outreach programme. Each year a number of tried and tested activities have become part of the Imperial and Motus Community Trust reading and enrichment programme.