Reading Tanzania Promotes Deeper Literacy

CODE expert-volunteer Dr. Charles Temple is a professor of Education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Last year, he received CODE's Director's Award for Literacy Promotion for his work with CODE over the last 20 years in several African countries providing training for teachers, writers, and illustrators on how to produce good, engaging children's books and use them to better teach reading and writing. He recently travelled to Tanzania to do some monitoring as part of CODE's Reading Tanzania programme.


Reading Tanzania Promotes Deeper Literacy

By Dr. Charles Temple

CODE’s Reading Tanzania programme, implemented by its local partner the Children’s Book Project for Tanzania (CBP), is wrapping up in a very different literacy climate than the one in which it started. When the programme began in the Kongwa District three and a half years ago, there were only rumors that other bigger initiatives to improve literacy in the country were on the horizon. The rumors were an understatement! Today, Big Results Now, EQUIP-T (Education Quality Improvement Program—Tanzania), and LANES (Literacy and Numeracy Support) have placed the problem of literacy improvement front and center among educators in Tanzania, and have even introduced a common focus for literacy efforts: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Now just about any educator you talk to in Tanzania can list the “Big 5” as those five aspects of reading are called. With their long and successful experience promoting literacy in Tanzania, CBP has been a key contributor to the current literacy initiatives in Tanzania, as evidenced in the ministry’s acknowledgement of their efforts in the new national literacy curriculum published just last month.

The success of Reading Tanzania in the Kongwa District was on display in a workshop in Kongwa Town this past June, when 75 teachers were invited to show what they had learned in their previous workshop. Groups of teachers led engaging lessons on reading with dictated text (Language-Experience), interactive reading aloud, phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension. The nine trainers, graduates of the CODE workshops for trainers facilitated by myself and Alison Preece from the University of Victoria two years earlier, managed the workshops with confident authority, leavened by lively warm-ups and infectious enthusiasm for their mission.

I was present in the Kongwa workshop to observe and support the trainers. It was wonderful to see these great people we had worked with two years ago leading their own workshop sessions with so much skill and enthusiasm. They were really solid.

With all the current emphasis in Tanzania on literacy, the CBP staff are often called on as national experts. CBP staff and educators trained in CBP projects are consulting with EQUIP-T and LANES. I, along with Marcus Mgbili from CBP, recently went to the Mpwapwa Teacher Training College near Kongwa to visit the six tutors that the CBP project had trained. But four of the tutors were away from campus; because of their advanced knowledge of literacy teaching methods, they had been seconded to the EQUIP-T and LANES projects and sent around the country.

School district officials in Kongwa are enthusiastic about CBP’s efforts. The acting District Education Officer, Mrs. Agatha Nolamnola, and her staff could readily point to CBP’s accomplishments. For instance, in years past she had asked her hundred-plus schools to report any children who could not read. There used to be many, but now, she told me, there are next to none. Also, seven years ago, the Kongwa district was sixth in primary school passing rates out of seven districts in the Dodoma region. Now the district is third in the region, and moving up, thanks in large part to the current Reading Tanzania programme and CBP’s earlier activities in the district.   

Although CBP is an important contributor to current national literacy efforts in Tanzania, Reading Tanzania is more ambitious than national literacy programs that promote the “Big 5” emphases of phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The “Big 5” are a helpful way to think about basic reading skills, but they don’t go far enough. As future skilled workers, heads of families, and leaders, students need not just to acquire basic literacy skills, but to gain the life-long habit of reading, be inspired to think critically and imaginatively, and learn to work together cooperatively and productively if Tanzania is ever going to see the return on its investment in education that everyone hopes for. Literacy comes in different levels, and people’s levels of productivity, health, income, and civic participation generally rise in proportion to their levels of literacy. Those levels have to be well above basic literacy to make real differences in social benefits.”

Reading Tanzania honors the five emphases adopted by the education ministry, and adds two more: introducing students to literacy, and writing. The programme puts special emphasis on developing reading fluency, higher order comprehension, and language skill (many children in the Kongwa district are not strong speakers of Kiswahili, the language of instruction in primary schools).

Reading Tanzania is further organized around seven principles:

A print-rich environment,

Everyone participates,

Learning makes sense,

Learning takes the students’ prior knowledge and actively expands it to encompass new knowledge,

Students are challenged to think deeply,

All lessons teach language, and

All children and young people are treated with care and respect.

Training in Reading Tanzania is conducted in several workshops where new methods are demonstrated and explained and then practiced by participants under the watchful eyes of the trainers. Participants then try the new methods in their classrooms, where they are observed and coached by Reading Tanzania staff. The project is supported by an 80-page guidebook, Mbinu Saba. Teachers use explicit performance standards to focus their efforts toward improvement, and the project has special monitoring tools and pupil assessment instruments that are used both to keep activities on track and to measure success. 

Read more about CODE's work in Tanzania

Friday, July 17, 2015