The Nal’ibali Mxit reading app will soon also feature a multilingual rhyme library for babies and very young childrenThe Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign has joined forces with Mxit Reach to launch a new app to put children’s stories and literacy tips into the hands of South African caregivers and their children.The app is available to the 5-million monthly users of the Mxit social platform. It allows anyone with mobile handset – including the feature phones that continue to dominate the market in South Africa – to help put their children on the path to educational success with access to regular stories, literacy tips and support.“Research shows that being told stories and being read to at home are the things most likely to help make children successful learners at school,” says Carole Bloch, director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa, which is driving the Nal’ibali campaign.“Stories, particularly when read or heard in home languages, help children develop their language skills and imagination as well as their thinking and problem-solving skills. But not all South Africans have access to children’s books and stories – particularly in their mother tongue.” In fact, research shows that 51% of homes in the country don’t have access to leisure books and 85% of the population lives beyond the reach of a public library.“What most South Africans do have is a cellphone, with mobile penetration now over 100% in the country,” says Bloch. “By harnessing this tidal wave of mobile communication technology use in our country, we hope to get even more adults reading and enjoying stories with their children so it becomes part of their daily lives.”While many children are just as tech savvy as their parents, and may well enjoy reading the stories on their own, Bloch points out that – just as with reading traditional print books – the greatest rewards for children’s literacy come when adults and children share stories together.“There is a tendency for parents to engage less with their children around e-books and other forms of digital content,” she says. “Language and literacy skills are best developed in the discussion and engagement that takes place when caregivers and young ones share a story together – and this includes the sharing of stories found on digital devices.”For this reason, caregivers are invited to sign up to the Nal’ibali reading app with the children in their care, to receive a story or motivational tip in a language of their choice.Maru van der Merwe, Mxit Reach project manager, says the app is designed to motivate caregivers and children to read regularly. “By using push technology we can help remind or prompt users to share a story or story activity with their children – important for the Nal’ibali campaign given that it’s regular encounters with text and stories that promotes literacy development in kids,” she says.“Users also have the opportunity to earn points and rewards by completing stories, submitting reviews and answering monthly polls to further encourage regular engagement with the content.”The app also offers a story library for users to access at any time, audio stories for children to listen to together with their caregivers or on their own (particularly useful in daycare), as well as fun literacy quizzes and the opportunity to share reviews in a virtual reading club section.“Coming soon will be a multilingual rhyme library for use with babies and very young children, as well as an ‘Ask the Experts’ feature, whereby users can submit reading and writing questions they may have related to their children’s literacy learning, and receive an answer from a Nal’ibali literacy expert,” says Van der Merwe.Andrew Rudge, CEO of Mxit Reach, says one of the social network’s aims is to inspire and improve lives through the development of innovative and cost-effective solutions using the Mxit platform. “With already 60 000 subscribers to their app, we look forward to now engaging and motivating these users to make regular use of the content so as to drive and support behaviour change when it comes to their family reading habits,” he says.“And, in that way, make a lasting contribution to the development of a reading culture in South Africa.” To sign up for the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment app, download Mxit from m.mxit.com. Then go to Apps > Search> Nalibali.