This article was published in The Times on Oct 27, 2009. To read the original article click here.
"There seems to be some kind of blind spot among educationists and policy makers when it comes to school libraries," said Genevieve Hart, an associate professor and head of department at the University of Western Cape.
She was invited to take part in a 6km march by thousands of children from schools around Cape Town to campaign for school libraries.
The campaign was planned by Equal Education, a non-government organisation that advocates quality and equality in education.
EE's belief is that education in South African schools remains unequal, 15 years after the end of apartheid.
According to the NGO's research, most pupils in township schools don't have access to a library.
The few libraries available are understaffed and many don't have qualified librarians
The march set off from Salt River High School last month and ended at the City Hall.
It was dominated by children from Khayelitsha, a working-class community in Cape Town with 54 schools but fewer than five libraries. The children were accompanied by EE organisers, parents and well-known local authors.
One of the authors, Sindiwe Magona, was driven to participate, and to speak after the march, by the plight of the pupils.
"This is a national shame that you should be demanding libraries while it has to be automatic. Every school deserves a library.
"You are marching because you cannot afford to have a school without a library. Education is your basic right; reading is not only the key to your future, it is the key to your life," she said
Hart was invited to the march because of her extensive work on school libraries for the library transformation charter – a project of the National Council of Library and Information Services.
The charter recommends that school libraries should be prioritised if we are serious about improving schooling and producing school leavers ready to take their place in the modern world's information-based economy.
Hart said: "I have great respect for Equal Education because they have done their homework – reading up on the issues, running workshops for learners, consulting widely.
"The resource-thirsty curriculum, the general lack of access to books, computers and information in learners' homes, our shockingly low reading skills – all point to the need for school libraries.
"Only a tiny minority of schools has a library, which is almost always funded from governing-body fees.
"In most South African schools. the so-called library is a depressing storeroom of textbooks and outdated books, which is, in any case, locked up for much of the day as there is no staff member to manage it."
Nokubonga Ralayo, a Grade 11 pupil at Chris Hani School, in Khayelitsha, added: "EE has taught me the value of standing up for my rights and for what I believe in.
"I have learned that I have to have knowledge of what I need and of how to use non-violence in achieving my goals.
"I feel that we can bring positive change in education through such campaigns.
"I can stand up anywhere and talk about what we need as pupils, and take responsibility for our education and be responsible citizens.
"I fully support the demands that Equal Education is making.
"Building libraries will be building the foundation of quality education.
"The only way of achieving equal education is through reading to access information.
"So, I had to stand up – we can't wait for change, we can only stand up for our rights."