Despite recent improvements in access to schooling, literacy rates remain low in sub-Saharan Africa. A number of studies have found that in many countries a large percentage of children fail to achieve functional literacy in the first grades of schooling.
Reading is fundamental to opportunity and prosperity. It is an education bedrock. Yet, around the world, most children aren’t able to read well, or can’t read at all.
According to Veronica Kimani, the Academics Director at Bridge Kenya, the organization addresses the literacy problem by developing solutions that support teachers and improve learning outcomes for pupils.
“Our teachers are empowered with the resources they need to teach effectively. They use a range of techniques to engage, communicate and connect with their pupils in classrooms,” says Veronica Kimani.
Purposeful speaking and listening activities support the development of pupils’ language capability and provides a foundation for thinking and communication. Such activities include reading books aloud and discussing them, and structured questioning to develop reading comprehension.
Bridge teachers support pupils to develop fluent reading capabilities in English and Kiswahili. Fluent pupils can read quickly, accurately, and with appropriate stress and intonation.
A recent baseline report by Tusome, a programme funded by USAID and the Kenyan government, says the use of local languages negatively affects grasp of the two language subjects – English and Kiswahili.
The report highlights that the use of vernacular language during English instruction is negatively associated with both English and Kiswahili reading fluency, with pupils from such classrooms scoring seven to twelve correct words per minute lower on average.
Instruction unfolds through language – written and spoken – and children learning to read and write is foundational to learning all other academic subjects.
Schools should focus on developing core classroom teaching strategies that improve the literacy and numeracy capabilities of pupils. There is a strong and consistent body of evidence demonstrating the benefit of structured interventions for pupils who are struggling with their literacy. The first step should be to use accurate diagnosis of capabilities and difficulties to match pupils to appropriate interventions.
Veronica Kimani says, “At Bridge, fluency and numeracy assessment structure has been incorporated into the teacher support system to help teachers in assessing fluency and numeracy. High-quality assessment and diagnosis are used to target and adapt teaching to pupils’ needs.”
Learning to read fluently in primary school is a critical foundational skill and one of the greatest predictors of academic success for pupils. Literacy is a core set of skills that can help children overcome social and economic barriers and underpin success in everyday life.
Among other benefits, building a strong foundation in these skills in primary school has the potential to develop a lifelong love of reading.