If Zimbabwe is to maintain its high literacy rate, it has to intensify nurturing a reading culture in the children and youth and this requires a syncing of efforts by parents, educators, writers and publishers. Zimbabwean parents already value education so much so that, despite challenges, they are ready to invest all they have to see their children learning in a formal school environment. Yet the times have changed now. Home-based self-tuition or guided learning used to be for a few children from privileged families.
Today, with the emerging private-owned Early Childhood Development centres and colleges in the high density suburbs, parents are realising that sending their children to these centres is not like dumping them to the teachers; the parents now wish to facilitate continued learning when the children come back home but a hurdle stand in their way. Where are the different good books for their children, apart from those they read and leave at school?
It is in this spirit of unclipping the imagination of the children that published author Aleck Kaposa who also runs Norton Education Centre, a private school, has decided to dedicate his time to writing and publishing for the children. Kaposa’s love for children’s literature brings back memories of the late writer Stephen Alumenda who churned beautiful stories for children in and outside Zimbabwe.
In a recent interview with Bookshelf, Kaposa, while touching on various issues, also naturally address the questions: Where are the different good books for children, apart from those they read and leave at school? Have the local bookshop “destroyed” their shelves for Zimbabwean children’s literature because the writers are not writing for the kids, publishers not publishing?
While acknowledging the role that parents must take in making sure their kids read and play with words at home, Kaposa challenged fellow writers to up their output for children and publishers to take the books out to the readers.
“I think that, until recently, locally written books for children have been denied access to schools and I would blame both writer and publisher. They do not promote published children’s books. Imagine, even Stephen Alumenda’s books hardly found their way into the school or even our guru Charles Mungoshi’s ‘One Day Long Ago’, a masterpiece, few readers know about this book. It is time we promote books for children in Zimbabwe,” said Kaposa.
With his own publishing company Essential Books which has so far published only his books, Kaposa has a dream to introduce new methods of learning English language for young readers while he remains within the framework of the new curriculum.
“It is not like I am looking for a quick buck but as Zimbabwean writers lets address the needs of our readers, let’s interact with them,” Kaposa said.
One of the needs, said the author of more than five children’s books, is high quality reading material tailor-made for the Zimbabwean child. The emerging private education centres in the locations have also lured some people who are selling poor, un-evaluated reading material and some educators and parents are not able to distinguish between a good and bad book for the children.
“I have seen those guys moving around colleges selling poor children’s books and alphabet posters, so forth. However, these guys are trying to satisfy a need in the market, a need which we skilled writers must take advantage of and push these guys off our tracks with our good books,” he said.
Kaposa’s books come with a different approach to learning English language for primary children. They are designed to tally with some specific aims such as to opromote a reading and creative writing culture using the English language.
However, Kaposa argues that his books not only help improve a child’s word power but also teach the child ICT, historical, social and cultural knowledge.
“For instance, in my story “The Big Yellow Train” there are lots of things the children will learn. It’s a story that also subtly gives the history of trains and gives children a chance to learn drawing trains, thus developing their artistic talents. You will see that some of the activities accompanying my stories include taking photos, thereby teaching children ICT. A school can purchase a camera and children can share,” said Kaposa.
It surely would be a transformative move if innovative ideas of writing for children such as Kaposa’s are recognised. Publishers also need to stop operating without knowing what the young readers need. And on behalf of parents, the books, on the other hand, need thorough evaluation before they are allowed to get to the children.