• Duncan Guy
Learn the News
+2711 782 1600
South African schoolchildren are reading hot-off-the-press world news in a newspaper, written for them in simple language they can understand. Learn the News is Africa’s first free newspaper for children.
Created by Johannesburg journalist Duncan Guy, the newspaper is produced by the South African Press Association (Sapa) a non-governmental news agency. It is funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, a funding organisation founded by renowned currency speculator and philanthropist George Soros.
To receive the paper schools have to register as subscriber to the Learn the News website for free. The newspaper is distributed via email free on Tuesdays and Thursdays during school terms. The teachers print out the publication on A4 or A3 paper and put it up in the libraries or information centres where the children can access it. Schools are encouraged to print extra copies and send them to neighbouring schools that do not have access to the internet. Currently more than 250 schools in the country have subscribed to the website.
Each newspaper has five news pages: World News; Africa News; Environmental News; Business News; Sport News. There is also a Today in History page. Each issue is illustrated by children from a different school. Guy, who is also the editor of the paper, chooses a school from the list of subscribers and sends a draft copy of the paper to them the day before the publication. They use this draft to illustrate the issue and send it back to Guy for publication.
Stories are gathered and rewritten by Guy in simple language that has an easy flow and engages the young minds. The standard adult version of the article runs below, followed by two quiz questions. Difficult words in the adult copy are highlighted and explained in a glossary. This way, there is something in the newspaper for readers at different levels of literacy.
“The newspaper makes its way into several school libraries and classrooms. The stories are often displayed around a world map at the schools – with ribbons attached to the map that link the text to wherever in the world the stories come from,” said Guy.
The aim of the paper is to promote reading, encourage interest in current affairs and promote general knowledge, he said. “News is sensitively selected to avoid the horror stories that appear in the mainstream media but major world stories are covered using carefully selected angles.”
The master edition comes out in English; translators working as part of the Learn the News team put together Afrikaans and isiZulu issues. A worksheet of exercises written in English is also included. This worksheet is based on the content of the newspaper and can be used in the classroom or as homework. They involve problem solving (arithmetic); various English exercises such as comprehension exercises, and word searches; and crossword puzzles.
Guy, who has 20 years’ journalism experience, started the newspaper in 2005 for his son, Owen, who was seven at the time. He would gather stories from the media and write the stories for his son in a simple language that he could understand. From there, word of mouth ensured its growth. “It went up on the notice board at Owen’s school, then onto the notice board at his friend’s school – and on from there,” Guy said.
He said it has been extremely interesting to hear about the different ways in which certain schools make use of the newspaper. “It gets put to use differently, depending on the need for it. It gets used as reading material at some of the more disadvantaged schools where there isn’t anything else available.”
At Wynberg Girls’ Junior School in Cape Town, in the Western Cape, an overview of the stories is announced over the intercom system. At St Peter’s Preparatory School, a boys school in Johannesburg, in Gauteng, birthday boys are told what happened on their day in history, using information from the Today in History page.
Community colleges around the country have welcomed the newspaper as a great medium for teaching children about the times they live in and also for teaching English literacy to adults.
Katherine Smith, a lecturer from Bloemfontein in the Free State province said the newspaper is used in their training of adult learners who are working towards becoming childhood development practitioners. These students will work as teachers or caregivers at pre-schools in their community.
“We use it for the communication and literacy component of the student’s national qualification,” she said. “The focus of communication literature is English and for all of our practitioners, English is a second language. Using the newspaper and its worksheet is a great practical way of enhancing, enriching and extending the communication literacy content.”
She said the students find the newspaper to be very user friendly and informative, and working through the worksheets is also a very enjoyable way of learning and understanding. “The newspaper has certainly helped us to build on our practitioners’ knowledge and use of English as their second language, in a very novel and practical way.”
Deborah Parker, a primary school teacher at Ridge Park Primary in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, said they look forward to each issue. “What is significant is that the paper is free yet it adds so much value in the classrooms.” The paper has helped in extending the pupils knowledge of the world. It has evoked discussions about subjects from outside their own frame of reference.”
Parker said the schoolchildren have enjoyed reading about different parts of the world and what is happening. “Pupils are more enthusiastic to do research and learn more about the different topics they read about in the paper.”