Feature Friday Literacy Program Ugandan Schools

Improving by Leaps and Bounds

Katherine, Jean, and Kate had so much fun during their first trip to Uganda in 2016, the trio returned again in 2017!

In the Resource Centers, they saw tremendous improvement:

  • Each class had scheduled time in the library,
  • Book checkouts and returns were logged in the ledger, and
  • Staff members besides the Head Teacher had keys to each Center.

There were even student librarians at each school, responsible for keeping the Center clean, helping their classmates find books, and teaching younger students library manners, like returning books to the shelves with their spine facing out or speaking quietly.

The English skills that students learn and refine through reading can affect the entire trajectory of their lives.  At the end of Primary 7, all students in Uganda take the Primary Leaving Exam (PLE). This test is administered entirely in English and determines whether or not the child will continue onto secondary school. In most schools, English is taught as a subject and the area’s dominant indigenous language is used as the mode of instruction until Primary 4. At that point, English is abruptly shifted to the mode of instruction in preparation for the PLE.

Access to books in English is critical, not only for scoring well on the English section, but also the Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies sections of the exam. Better English skills not only correlate to a better understanding of test questions, but also allows for more learning in class before ever taking the exams. Teachers can spend more time teaching relevant content when they don’t have to also teach vocabulary, spelling, or comprehension.

At one school, a Social Studies teacher was hesitant to support time in the library for each class because it would mean shortening his classes and students performing worse on the PLE.  According to him, “Social Studies has nothing to do with Literacy!” and needed every minute to convey the material to his students.  So Katherine, Jean, and Kate asked him, “how much time to you spend teaching English to your students rather than Social Studies?  Helping them with spelling, pronunciation, or grammar so that they can understand the material you’re teaching?”  The teacher admitted that this took much of his class time and was one of the reasons he always felt so strongly about shortened class periods.  Jean pointed out that by giving up just five minutes a day, he could potentially gain hours of instruction time during the year, if those five minutes were used by students to improve their understanding of English.

Not only did this teacher realize that his discipline is explicitly linked to English and Literacy, but he began speaking about all that he could do with his students – dig into the details of history, plan more debates, teach about the Ugandan political system, and so much more.  To him, English and Social Studies were completely different subjects; why should he give up his class time to add to another teacher’s?

Our teachers quickly realized that we needed a long-term solution.  Sister Schools couldn’t rely on a yearly trip filled with trainings from American teachers to ensure the Resource Centers were utilized to their fullest potential.  Our partner schools needed consistent support throughout the year from someone who knew how to build a culture of literacy at a Ugandan school – and we had just the person in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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