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The first research study undertaken for FWIP was a baseline study. Angela Schaffer and Kathy Watters were appointed in 2002 to conduct a comprehensive baseline study of four pilot areas. Four urban and rural communities from disadvantaged backgrounds in four provinces were identified as suitable pilot areas. The areas were Maphotla in Mpumalanga, Rammulotse in Free State, Ottery in Western Cape and Mount Ayliff in Eastern Cape. In each area the study covered 100 households with children under the age of six. The study investigated literacy and education levels, the use of books and libraries amongst parents and young children and accessibility of reading materials.

The baseline study highlighted the following important issues:

· There was a great need for children's books in the pilot areas. The majority of young children in the four areas had little or no exposure to books or reading. There was a lack of children's picture books in all the households and in many of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres. The children's books in the ECD centres which had collections tended to be unsuitable, Eurocentric English stories.

  • It was vitally important to include support and orientation of caregivers, about sharing books with their children, in order to ensure the success of the project. FWIP had to work in partnership and collaboratively with organisations that can offer this support and/or develop a fully-fledged training component.
  • Each household had an average of two children under the age of seven.
  • Each household had at least one literate person.
  • Most households had some form of printed matter - most commonly the bible and religious material.
  • While it was useful that some area team members were part of the research team, their inexperience in research may have affected the quality of data collected. (Empowering and developing local communities have to be carefully balanced with expert skills and knowledge.)
  • FWIP should make wider use of local community organisations and groups for the distribution of books and implementation of the project.
    Ways and means of developing local library capacity so that libraries can promote books and reading amongst children and caregivers effectively, needed to be considered.


In 2003 Schaffer and Watters conducted a formative evaluation of FWIP in the four pilot areas. This evaluation revealed that significant steps were taken towards achieving the aims of the project. Their overall findings were:

  • The project made a significant impact in all four pilot areas. It introduced books to children and families where there was virtually no culture of reading, and children were still using, sharing and treasuring their books several months after receiving them;
  • The books were also used as resources in pre-school and even grade 1 contexts where little or no other reading material was available;
  • The children and caregivers were strongly attracted to those books which included illustrations that reflected their own immediate environments;
  • More books of similar high quality and relevant content should be introduced into the homes of the recipient children soon, to ensure that they would continue develop their literacy skills and enthusiasm for reading;
  • More support was needed for the area teams and caregivers in all communities, to enable them to make better use of the opportunities the FWIP books offered for developing a culture of reading in their communities.

The most important finding was evidence of increased literacy activity. In homes where there had been no reading materials and in pre-schools where a few inappropriate books had lain on shelves, children between the ages of two and six listened to, looked at, recited from, retold stories and described what they saw in the books in relation to their own lives. (Schaffer and Watters, 2003:13). Children and families were engaging in both reading and pre-reading activities. The books had an impact in encouraging caregivers, especially mothers, to read to their children. Several parents said that the FWIP books persuaded them to read for their children for the first time. There was some concern that the initial spurt of enthusiasm for reading books would be short-lived as four books would be insufficient to provide a wide enough range of reading experiences to develop future readers. (Schaffer and Watters, 2003:18-19)

Schaffer and Watters (2003: 8-9) identified a number of challenges that the project faced:

  • Most of the area teams were beyond the regular reach of the project manager, who found it difficult to manage the work of those teams. The area teams were made up entirely of volunteers from different organizations and could not be held accountable to each other or the project manager. As a result, different management challenges emerged from each area, which could have been resolved had more frequent monitoring by the project manager been financially and logistically possible. An example of this was a book delivery blockage that occurred in Maphotla.
  • Most of the volunteers became involved with FWIP because of their contact with small children. However, many of them had no expertise in teaching caregivers how to mediate or introduce books to small children. The video and pamphlet which were designed to assist in this respect, did not impact on the volunteers’ behavior. Most of them tended to draw in their own school-based experiences of reading which meant that the books were introduced to caregivers and children as tools for learning rather than fun.
  • The project requirement of accurate distribution records proved to be too much for most volunteers. As a result some of the less capable distributors focused more on keeping records than on providing quality distribution.

Schaffer and Watters (2003:9) recommended three options for future implementation:

  1. FWIP could stay with the current model, with refinements. Far more would have to be done to support area teams in terms of resources, technical skills and imparting an understanding of the underlying ethos of FWIP. The project should also consider remunerating local people who undertake organizational tasks for FWIP.
  2. FWIP could focus on producing books and select other partners to do the distribution.
  3. FWIP could decide that books do not require mediation and just needed to get into the hands of small children. This option would shift the focus away from local development and area teams to a travelling road show model of distribution.


In 2007, Schaffer and Watters were appointed to evaluate the second phase (Formative Evaluation of the Second Phase of First Words in Print). The evaluation team comprised of Schaffer and Watters as lead researchers and the FWIP coordinator, Lorato Trok, as field researcher (Schaffer and Watters, 2007:2).

The purpose of the evaluation was to learn about best practice for future project expansion and development. They focused on:

  • The effectiveness of the book distribution in four areas, i.e. the number of books distributed; who distributed the books and who received the books;
  • The recipients' responses to the books, who read the books, the life of the books and where were the books.

This research found that in all four pilot areas the majority of children still experienced the pleasure of handling and looking at the books and telling the stories after more than six months of receiving the books. Both literate and illiterate caregivers enjoyed talking about children’s reading and storytelling and in several instances the introduction of FWIP books into print deprived homes was a catalyst to reviving family and neighbourhood storytelling and to caregivers taking children to local libraries. Over 50% of the children in the research sample said that they still read the FWIP books daily and nearly 90% of the books were still intact and available for reading. The only negative factor was that several caregivers were reluctant to allow young children uncontrolled access to the books. Only three of the children in the research households read and played with the books entirely on their own. The researchers recommended that this problem be addressed during distribution (Schaffer and Watters, 2007:14).


In September 2009 an information sharing workshop was held at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town. The objectives were to meet all the area partners, evaluate the project, discuss challenges and successes of the project, share experiences and forge a way forward. At this workshop the area partners gave in-depth reports of the project in their respective areas. Below are summaries of successes and challenges identified by the workshop participants:


l Many children who would not have been able to own books before, now owned them.

l Children read for fun and enjoyed books.

l They have learnt to handle books and care for them.

l Children learnt pre-reading skills.

l There are now more books in homes.

l Families read together and this creates a bond within families.

l Illiterate parents contributed to their children’s literacy – read pictures and are setting aside time to read with their children.

l Very young children understood that there was meaning in print.

l Children are able to create their own stories from pictures.

l In schools they write and illustrate their own stories.

l Where there are libraries, more children visit to get more books.

l The books have created literacy awareness.

l They are valuable resources to trainers who run literacy workshops.

l There is more interest in literacy corners.

l Exposure to books at an early age has instilled confidence in children and in Mpumalanga some of the children took part in a TV programme.


l It has been impossible to give books to the same child through all distributions.

l Distribution is costly and there is no budget.

l Books have been less substantial in 2007.

l Books are never enough because of the growth in numbers of children.

l No budget for workshops and this leads to delivery only – no intervention.

l Because of the above some practitioners do not mediate books.

l Trained practitioners moved to other places and new practitioners were not trained.

l No capacity for monitoring.

l Less communication and support from the Centre for the Book.

l Video – no audio visual equipment in most centres.

l Translations in books.

l Demand for books out of print.

l Levels of literacy.

l Sites were scattered.

l Shortage of staff.

l No one person responsible for the project.

l Forms for record keeping are complicated and getting that information is time consuming.

The following recommendations were made in 2009:

The 2009 report stated that the FWIP was still as relevant as it was at its inception. The need for very young children to be exposed to books and reading was still great. The following recommendations were made:

l The Centre for the Book continues with FWIP.

l The Centre for the Book raise funds for this project.

l Forge partnerships with Ministries of Education, Arts and Culture and Social Development to ensure sustainability.

l New areas to be identified.

l To establish contractual partnerships with Early Childhood Development Organizations and Family Literacy Projects – for training and mediation purposes.

It was concluded that the FWIP project had its fair share of challenges but the successes outweighed the challenges. It made a difference in the lives of many South African children and communities.