The education system in Malawi faces a tremendous challenge. After two years of formal education, 75 percent of students are unable to read a single, familiar word. Words such as “amai” (mother) and “atate” (father)—the first words children learn to speak in Chichewa—remain unfamiliar to the vast majority when seen in print.
Learning to read at an early age lays the foundation for all future learning. It enables children to engage in independent learning and expands the ways in which they can learn about and from the world around them. If these skills are never developed, children lose access to further education and future income opportunities.
To combat the low level of early grade literacy skills, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) established the National Reading Programme (NRP). Abt Associates is supporting the NRP by implementing the USAID-funded Yesani Ophunzira (YESA) Activity. A key objective of YESA is to work with the MOEST to provide teachers of standards 1-4 (or “grades 1-4” for our readers in the U.S.) with the tools, methodology and activities they need to ensure all learners in their classroom develop foundational literacy skills and can read with comprehension by the end of standard 4.
To this end, Abt through YESA has helped MOEST develop simple reading assessments that are aligned with the curriculum. These tests allow teachers to quickly assess students’ skills and their ability to identify letters, read syllables, read familiar words, read short sentences and read a short story—with comprehension. Using the results, teachers can provide targeted remediation activities—also designed by YESA—that help students build the literacy skills they have yet to master. As students demonstrate mastery of a skill, they are promoted to the next literacy building block.
In the first 18 months of the YESA project, we have trained all standard 1 – 4 teachers and head teachers nationwide (approximately 46,000 teachers and 5,561 head teachers) to use these assessment tools and remediation activities. Teachers have left the training venues excited because they can immediately recognize the benefits these materials will have on their students’ reading skills.
The next academic year begins on September 16, 2019. This will be the first full academic year in which teachers nationwide are implementing our reading assessments and remediation activities in the classroom. We, along with the MOEST, USAID and other implementing partners, are filled with excitement about the impact these new tools and methodologies can have. The YESA team will be working hard, monitoring implementation and providing coaching throughout the school year. The next National Reading Assessment will be conducted at the end of this coming school year and we hope that the impact of our work to support literacy in Malawi will be fully evident. We’ll be sure to report back.