Wimpy - Working to get South African children reading

Wimpy is committed to empowering young minds and aiding literacy by providing stories in all official languages. Photo: Supplied

Wimpy is committed to empowering young minds and aiding literacy by providing stories in all official languages. Photo: Supplied

Published Sep 8, 2023


As South Africa marks International Literacy Day on September 8, the prognosis for literacy and reading skills in the country is serious.

According to the National Reading Barometer South Africa (2023), 65% of homes with children under age 10 do not have a single picture book. The 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) released in May found that 81% of grade four pupils cannot read for meaning. “This means that a shocking eight out of 10 pupils are unable to read for meaning,” says educational psychologist, Seago Maapola.

“While economic circumstances play a role, the biggest reason is because of academic difficulties. If academic issues were addressed, we’d stand a better chance of supporting our learners towards good job prospects when they are older.”

Wimpy, a truly South African, family-oriented brand that realises the importance of early grade literacy and its impact on children, has partnered with Maapola to create awareness of the benefits of boosting the reading rate.

Seago Maapola, Educational Psychologist. Photo: Supplied

“The academic, emotional and social impact on learners of having low literacy skills can be dire,” says Maapola. “These learners experience deep frustration and low self-esteem. They are visibly embarrassed when asked to read in class or to participate in classroom discussions. They avoid engaging in class and develop a negative attitude which affects their further learning. Their academic performance deteriorates, which further enhances their belief that they are hopeless and helpless.”

As an educational psychologist, Maapola sees learners with poor literacy skills becoming increasingly socially isolated and developing behavioural issues. “Their educational outcomes are poor because they struggle to learn, which means they have limited future job prospects - and so the cycle continues.

“We are sitting with learners with such low confidence that they have emotional distress and anxiety when it comes to learning, which without support, can lead to disastrous outcomes.” Maapola says learners with low literacy skills sometimes experience bullying, which “further perpetuates their anxiety and hopelessness”.

The solution – which Maapola “cannot emphasise enough” – is passing on early literacy skills to children. “This lays the foundation for formal literacy taught in schools. If learners in Early Childhood Development are read to from an early age, they learn to recognise letters and develop their vocabulary and listening skills. They are then prepared to learn to properly read from grade one.”

Maapola stresses the game-changing effect of exposing children to books when they are young. “Give them access to books, read to them, and read with them so they have a learning advantage.

“I say ‘with’ because reading is not something that happens from one side - it’s bi-directional.”

And, says Maapola, it’s not just teachers, but also parents who should read with children. “When parents and guardians read to children, they develop their vocabulary, and they learn to reason and to think critically. Parents can use facial expressions to show certain emotions and use the tone of their voices to emphasise certain points. This helps children to develop emotional capacity and to learn social skills and cues. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this.

“Reading together in families is also an opportunity for bonding and for quality time together,” adds Maapola.

Jodi Law, Wimpy Brand Manager. Photo: Supplied

It’s not just about reading to children, Maapola stresses. “As parents, we need to read ourselves, to cultivate a love of reading in children. Children don’t only listen to what we say, they watch what we do. Parents who read themselves create positive associations that reading is a pleasure. If we engage with books, if we’re curious and interested, they get to be the same.

“Reading books by different authors on a variety of subjects is important too. They develop empathy, understanding and cultural awareness.”

Maapola says that she’s seen striking results when parents read to their children. “Whenever an assessment of a child shows there are literacy issues, I recommend that parents read to them at home. The results have been amazing. Literacy needs to be part of the family lifestyle.”

Wimpy is committed to empowering young minds and enabling literacy from an early age. Over the past three years, Wimpy has partnered with online bookstore, Ethnikids to produce multilingual, multicultural children’s books based on local folktales that South African children can relate to. Passionate about providing children with books in their own language, Wimpy plans to roll out further initiatives to promote literacy among children nationwide.

Jodi Law, brand manager at Wimpy, said that the brand encourages family time and considers children to be an integral part of the brand.

“We provide a platform where children can learn while they have fun; a place where our children feel welcomed, acknowledged and seen. Literacy helps a child’s brain develop, it ignites the imagination and enables a child to attend and progress through school.

“Reading is a magical way for families to spend time together. It helps children develop a love for reading while enabling them to appreciate the art of storytelling. It provides a space for families to connect.”

With this commitment, watch this space for something exciting to be announced by Wimpy soon.

Books from last year's Wimpy in partnership with Ethnikids campaign are currently available online at https://wimpy.co.za/kids/ethnikids/. Kids can look forward to a new series of exciting local stories which will be available in English at the end of September at Wimpy restaurants with a Kids Combo Meal, the translated versions in all 11 official languages will be available online.