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Context Matters: Towards Sustainable Literacy Development by Africans for Africans

Panel Abstract:


Ugochukwu Okoye, CODE Ottawa, Canada

Peter Timmerman, CODE Ottawa, Canada

The Context Matters research program, a partnership between CODE, an international NGO, and African academics and practitioners, aims to promote sustainable literacy development in African contexts. This panel aims to showcase the ongoing and completed research under this program and deepen our understanding of sustainable literacy development in Africa. It will feature six research paper presentations with cross-cutting relevance to the following PALFA sub-themes:

  • Librarianship and enhancing literacy development.
  • Literacy for equitable gender relations
  • Rethinking literacy and inclusion in mitigating learning poverty crisis in Africa
  • Literacy for equity outside the framework of formal education
  • Remediating learning poverty through sexual and reproductive health literacy.

The panel provides an opportunity for reflection on collaborations involving African academics, educators, practitioners, and CODE. The discussion will deepen the understanding of literacy and gender equality in African contexts and strengthen collaborations that support local research and knowledge production. Input will be sought on such matters as the representativeness of the ideas and issues brought forth in the research, gaps in the research, and implications for practice, policy, and the promotion of an African research agenda.

Overall, this panel aims to promote a collaborative and inclusive approach to literacy development in Africa. By bringing together diverse perspectives and experiences, we hope to generate new insights into the challenges and opportunities facing literacy development in African contexts and to develop a shared vision for sustainable literacy development by Africans for Africans.

Conference Paper Abstracts

1. Title: Leveraging coaching to improve sexual health literacy among teachers in informal urban settlements in Nairobi, Kenya


Dr. Purity Nthiga-Kenyatta University:

Dr. Sheila Wamahiu – Jaslika Consulting:

Ms. Deborah Kimathi – Dignitas, Kenya:


Using a participatory action research design, the study identified and addressed the sexual health literacy gaps of teachers in schools in informal settlements in Nairobi, with the aim of strengthening their capacity to reach out and contribute to the sexual health and well-being of learners. Specifically, the study aimed at establishing the status of sexual health teaching and learning; utilizing coaching to improve the sexual health literacy of teachers; and to co-create, with teachers, sexual health literacy guidelines and classroom resources for adolescent learners in the informal urban settlements. In-depth interviews, FGDs, reflection stories of change and consultative meetings/workshops were combined with a rapid perception survey and desk review to generate evidence to inform the coaching and co-creation of the sexual health literacy guidelines for teachers. Critical gaps in knowledge and understanding of SRH concepts and issues, and implicit and explicit biases in the teaching-learning materials affected teachers’ capacity to deliver SRHE effectively to learners. Through coaching, teachers were equipped to be more sensitive to the factuality of information, language, images and context biases, methods of delivering SRH information with a special focus on gender, relationships, and communication, and GBV. The project contributed to filling identified research gaps in SRH in a resource-poor urban setting; equipping teachers as critical players in the education of children in all areas of life including SRH; the strategies of increasing efficiency of instruction and the development of learners’ psychosocial health and well- being to recover and accelerate learning post COVID 19 pandemics.

Keywords: sexual health literacy, coaching, teachers, adolescent

2. Contexts and culture in Science Teaching and Learning: Cases from Secondary Schools in Ethiopia


Dawit Asrat Getahun, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia:

Engida Hailye Gebre, Simon Fraser University, Canada Engida:


Over the last few decades, educational research has highlighted the situated nature of learning and the importance of context for the success of learning and instruction. When teachers integrate the culture and context of their students into the lessons, it allows learners to build on the “social and epistemic dimensions that are embedded in the growth, evaluation, representation, and communication” of knowledge and practice (Duschl, 2008, p. 268). The recognition of “learning context” has not, however, been accompanied by practices of implementing context-oriented learning and instruction, particularly in countries in the global South. The lack of context-focused curricula and instructional approaches can weaken students’ efforts to address everyday life problems and situate their learning in the context of their communities. This study investigated science teachers’ understanding of learning contexts and their ways of considering the cultures and contexts of students in order to make science education relevant to learners’ everyday life. We used semi-structured interviews to understand teachers’ perspectives. We then conducted a two-day professional development workshop on contextualizing science teaching and learning. While interview results revealed teachers’ rudimentary understanding of learning contexts, their design and implementation of learning activities and projects after the workshop shows considerable promise for integrating science into the everyday life of students. The study outlines the ways by which contexts matter in science education in the Global South and articulates what and how of learning contexts for the “everydayness” of science for students and their communities.

Keywords: learning context, context-centred pedagogy, science, literacy practices. Ethiopia

3. Title: Unearthing the Sexual and Reproductive Health Literacy Crisis for Adolescents in Rural Primary Schools in Kisii Central Sub-County, Kenya


Dr. George Andima: Kisii University, Kenya;

Prof. Colomba Muriungi: Chuka University, Kenya:


Research indicates that teen pregnancies lead to multiple health, social and economic challenges in many parts of the world. Kisii county in Kenya has experienced escalated instances of teen pregnancies in recent times, and this is attributed to a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information. This study is a follow-up from earlier CODE-funded research in Tharaka Nithi County, Kenya (2018-2019), which observed that lack of exposure to knowledge on sexual reproductive health matters, contributed to high levels of teen pregnancies. The current study examined the availability and utilization of Sexual and Reproductive Health Literacy Materials (SRHLMs) by adolescents in selected primary schools in Kisii central sub-county, with the aim of proposing intervention measures to curb escalated teen pregnancies. Respondents included 225 pupils in grades 5-6 and class 7 aged between 10-15 years from five (5) primary schools, 20 teachers and 15 community leaders. The study established that there were limited SRHLMs for adolescents in the sampled schools and outside the school. But when the adolescents were presented with a sample text from one of the sources, most of them demonstrated a good grasp of the messages therein. The community around the selected schools indicated that they were aware of the challenges that adolescents face but rarely participated in addressing these challenges. The study recommends enhanced advocacy on reproductive health literacy education through the County government and the National government of Kenya and availing the SRHLMs and facilitating their use by adolescents in primary schools.

Key Words: Teenage pregnancies, Literacy materials, Kenya, Reproductive health, Access

4. Title: Equipping Pre-service Teachers to Champion Gender Equality in Uganda


Lydia Namatende-Sakwa (PhD), Kyambogo University, Uganda:

Assoc. Prof. Betty Ezati (PhD), Makerere University Uganda:

Henry Kariisa (PhD), Makerere University, Uganda:

Stephen Ndawula (PhD), Kyambogo University, Uganda:


Closely associated with SDG 4 which advocates equitable quality education and lifelong learning, is SDG 5 on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. At the heart of these two SDGs is the role of schools and particularly teachers as key agents in the gender socialization of children, through stereotypical beliefs about gender roles. This study, situated in Uganda, set out to i) elicit teachers’ perspectives on gender roles; teachers’ lived experiences on gender roles in schools and, iii) establish the extent to which gender equality was integrated into teacher education programs. Methodologically, the study was informed by Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction and, it took up a qualitative phenomenological design, to explore gender equality within higher education in Uganda. The findings revealed teacher perspectives as largely undergirded by traditional notions of gender roles, likely to shape gendered patterns in subject choice, participation, learner styles and performance. Secondly, teachers’ lived experiences in schools illuminated trajectories of gendered patterns in leadership, discipline, bullying, preferential treatment and sexual harassment. Finally, the paucity of gender equality within teacher education programs was illuminated through a dearth in content, omission, time and positioning. This was exacerbated by challenges of its integration including gender illiteracy gaps; overloaded programs; negative attitudes; norms; the paucity of female leaders and limited administrative support. Therefore, this evidence on traditional notions of gender roles, which shape inhibitive gendered patterns, should inform gender-responsive teacher education programs, to produce gender-sensitive teachers to champion equitable gender relations.

Key words: gender equality; teacher education; Bourdieu; Uganda

5. Literacy Cooperatives: Impact of Sharing Culturally-Relevant Literacy Materials and Training on Literacy Knowledge amongst Early Childhood Educators in Nigeria


Katrina A. Korb, University of Jos;

Janet Eseyin, University of Jos:


Repeated Interactive Read Aloud is an evidence-based literacy strategy that has been found to increase children’s reading comprehension skills. However, this strategy is rarely used in Nigerian early childhood classrooms due to a lack of available storybooks and training on the role of reading aloud in literacy development. In Nigeria, a common approach for overcoming the challenge of scarce resources is a cooperative, which is a democratically controlled organization where members voluntarily contribute assets to meet specific needs. This solution of a cooperative can be applied to the challenges of scarce reading materials and the need for contextually relevant teacher training in Repeated Interactive Read Aloud. Three Literacy Cooperatives of early childhood educators teaching pupils ages 3 to 8 years were formed. Each Literacy Cooperative met every other week for two academic terms (a total of 12 meetings) to rotate culturally relevant storybooks and receive training on the application of Repeated Interactive Read Aloud for improving reading comprehension skills. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the impact of participating in a Literacy Cooperative on educators’ knowledge of best practices in literacy instruction. Pre-treatment and post-treatment interviews were conducted with participating educators (n=32) on their knowledge of best practices in literacy instruction.

Keywords: Literacy practices, learning materials, literacy cooperatives, early child education, Nigeria


6. Title: The [non-]role of librarianship in enhancing literacy development: a case of one refugee secondary school in Uganda


Rebecca Nambi (Ph.D.), Makerere University Uganda:

Rovincer Najjuma (Ph.D.), Makerere University:


This paper presents one theme from the CODE-sponsored research project titled ‘Adolescents’ literacy practices in and out of school in Uganda’.   One of our objectives sought to establish the motivations for young people’s literacy practices in and out of school in selected contexts in Uganda. We wanted to interact with our participants to understand their literacy practices in a naturalistic manner and hence adopted a qualitative research approach under the symbolic interactionism paradigm. We used observation, interview and documentary evidence to collect data about how secondary students utilized available materials and spaces in their context in order to explore the meaning behind their interactions in relation to literacy. In this paper, we wish to share our findings in relation to students’ access to and use of literacy materials. Though the study was carried out in two schools, here we focus on our analyzed data in relation to students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards the ‘library’ and their thoughts on the available literacy materials.

Keywords: literacy practices, learners’ motivation, literacy materials, library

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