The IFLA school library section satellite was extremely interesting! After talking to several local librarians and educators and after my presentations to them, we all were able to conclude that we are experiencing similar difficulties in the field of school libraries. That is somewhat odd because of several reasons:
- Finland is still among the top in PISA results and is widely recognized as a top education nation. South Africa on the other hand has unfortunately been found in the lowest top of education rankings of OECD
- South Africa is still struggling with a whole range of different problems in schools than Finland: reading skills is still a fact that has to be promoted, lack of finances, a varied school system with a wide range of schools (from Private to poor township schools), technology is widely missing, in some areas girls are missing a week of school every month in lack of sanitary towels during menstruation, etc.
- In townships the students are even being robbed on their way to schools. The news paper recently urged the certain year class not to wear their school jackets which indicate the certain school. This school got tablets and carrying technology with you can be very dangerous. It took only a few days and the school had been robbed of all smartboards and computers. Thieves get away schools tablets, Thieves targeting schools
These are severe problems people in education are facing every day. I was amazed and blown away by the school librarians I met during the satellite meeting! In spite of all the above mentioned, they are engaged, brave, enthusiastic, extremely dedicated and a great example of activism in reading and literacy! After a short while I understood, that it is me who is learning here.
There were 5 panelists on Thursday, who were all presenting the situation of school libraries in South Africa. The issues can be collected to a clear list:
There are 9 provinces in South Africa. Inside every province there are citied and inside different directorates involved in arranging local education. Provinces are quite autonomous. Every province has a school library person in charge, but they are retiring soon - will new ones be appointed? The management is sporadic and there is a lack of general management. The provinces has different situations and some provinces are a little better off. They obviously have things a little bit better. Some provinces has encouraged teacher training in reading, literacy and management of school libraries. School library of the year award is given to that library which has shown most progress. There are national guidelines.
Meanwhile in Finland, there are no guidelines, no one in charge in the government, and no legislation what so ever. Nothing to obligating to school library functions.
The school libraries here are lacking in financing. Some of the reasons are listed already above. The national guidelines suggest that 10% of the learning material costs should be put to library materials, but that doesn't always happen. Theresa said that the problem is that school libraries to acquire money but the results are not seen immediately. A lot of projects are going on as well. There are organizations, companies and NGO's that are financing for materials, spaces and furnishing.
Meanwhile in Finland, we do have similar problems. If there is a school library governed by a single school, it can be that a principal is giving the person responsible of the library some money when there is some to spare. The libraries taken care of by municipality libraries are usually better off. And if we are good at something too, it is projects. The sad business with projects is that it is always ending at some point. Then it is up to the organization to take over, also financially.
Many schools in South Africa are downright crowded. If the school has not been built with school library in mind, it is hard to find the space. And many schools has been forced to turn the library room to a classroom, Computer room or similar.
Meanwhile in Finland, the problem is the same. The meaning of school library to teaching and learning is not widely acknowledged. New buildings may have a library room, if the management is acknowledging this issue. Usually the same faith of library rooms falls in Finland too.
There are too few school librarians in South Africa. What is noteworthy is that researcher Albert Boekhorst summed up his research in school librarians. He was not able to find a things as a "typical school library". There just were too many models. BUT, one thing that he found to be the leading issue was, ta-daa, SCHOOL LIBRARIAN. This is what is needed for a proper school library.
Meanwhile in Finland, there are approximately some 20-30 full time librarians in Finland! The profession is very rare. We can start by asking does the public libraries give the attention to schools or do we need pedagogical librarians?
There are a lot of things going on in South Africa but there is a lot of work to be done. There people are dedicated and have a clear vision to aim for, much thanks to the national guidelines. Biggest problems are in staffing and lack of political will in implementing the national guidelines. There is still a lot of happening and the activism is making things happen!
Meanwhile in Finland, I argue that the meaning and the possibilities of school libraries to teaching and learning has not been fully acknowledged. Yes, libraries are mentioned in the core curriculum, but the library is still mainly considered to be a help for reading and literature. In engaging libraries to information literacy teaching, which is already happening here, is a big question in Finland.
I promised to keep the posts short when I started the blog. Sorry about the lengthy writing, but there was just much to be said! :-) I will be visiting 5 different school libraries next week, more to come!