South Africa’s Puku Children's Literature Foundation wins UNESCO Literacy Prize

Puku Children's Literature Foundation in South Africa has been awarded the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize 2021 for its programme, ‘Using digital technologies to promote children's literature in South Africa's indigenous languages’.

Established in 2009, the ‘Puku Children's Literature Foundation’ is a non-governmental organization that promotes reading and book development to ensure that all children, especially those living in materially deprived and marginalized areas, have access to books in all South African languages. The name ‘puku’ is Northern Sotho for ‘book’.

Puku’s long-term objective is to develop ‘Pukupedia’, an online encyclopaedia that will be the first multilingual and reliable source of information on children’s books in all South African languages. 

Since 2016, 610 learners have benefited from the programme. Puku conducts workshops and social media activities to train storytellers, writers, teachers, librarians, language practitioners, cultural and literary activists and academics in the indigenous language ecosystem, enabling them to teach children. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Puku organized the first-ever webinar series in indigenous languages, as well as conversations within and between linguistic communities, through radio and social media, to promote the production of book catalogues in all indigenous languages. 

Puku has had an important impact on the promotion of reading in indigenous languages from early childhood. Its website is a trusted source for children’s books reviews, with its book section featuring informational pages for roughly 2,500 books. The organization also published the first children’s picture book in the N/uu language in a trilingual format and aims to publish literature in other endangered languages. The organization strives to strengthen Puku’s digital platforms, to consolidate its partnerships with organizations working in the indigenous language and children’s literature fields.

Through prestigious literacy Prizes, UNESCO supports effective literacy practices and encourages the promotion of dynamic literate societies to close the literacy gap of approximately 773 million people.

The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize (3 awards), was established in 1989 and is supported by the Government of the Republic of Korea. It gives special consideration to programmes that promote mother language-based literacy development. Each UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize winner receives a medal, a diploma and US$20,000. The other 2021 winners are Limitless Horizons Ixil (Guatemala) and India’s National Institute of Open Schooling. 

Ms Elinor Sisulu, the Executive Director of Puku Children’s Literature Foundation will receive the UNESCO-King Sejong and speak briefly about the Puku programme during the presentation of the prizes.

The UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa heartily congratulates Puku and South Africa for the initiative to promote literacy and for winning the prize.