PRAESA, Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa, was founded in 1992 by the anti-apartheid activist and academic Neville Alexander, who was held for ten years as a political prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. From the 1980s until his death in 2012, Alexander worked to raise awareness of multilingualism as a key to personal and societal development. His objective was to offer children schooling and literature in their native tongues. For more than twenty years now, PRAESA has made powerful, innovative moves to highlight literature as a key component of both personal and societal development, always grounded in the specific conditions of South African society and culture.
PRAESA has three core goals: to provide children with high-quality literature in the various South African languages; to collaborate with and foster new networks among publishers and reading promotion organisations; and to initiate and carry out activities that support and sustain a culture of reading and storytelling in socially vulnerable communities. South Africa is a country of 11 official languages, with a large gap between poor schools in rural areas and townships and urban schools with stronger resources. PRAESA was an early advocate of using literature and stories in literacy instruction. It has also addressed fundamental questions of how to support school systems in vulnerable areas and how to encourage bilingual or multilingual teaching.
In 2006, PRAESA started the Vulindlela Reading Club in Langa, a township outside Cape Town. The club was quickly followed by many more, both in Cape Town and in other provinces. Club activities emphasize the importance of weaving together books and group reading with dramatization, singing games and storytelling. PRAESA strives to support children’s self-esteem and linguistic identities and activities are held both in children’s native languages and in English. The starting point is always children’s natural curiosity about stories, reading and literature. The Vulindlela Reading Club formed the point of departure for the Nal’ibali project: a large-scale national reading promotion program begun in 2012. Nal’ibali is a network of reading clubs that uses media campaigns to encourage children to read and inspire parents, grandparents and teachers to read with them.
PRAESA believes in change at the grass-roots level. Reading clubs are run by local volunteers, who attend workshops and receive training and mentoring. They continuously develops its strategies and methods to support socially vulnerable areas and reach out with stories and books.
PRAESA’s work manifests fundamental values of democracy and a view on human rights inherited from its founder, Neville Alexander. It is pledged to break down language barriers and support the peaceful co-existence of languages, in partnership with others and with full faith in linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity.
PRAESA is the 2015 Laureate for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Link to the jury citation here.