International Reports on Literacy Research



Introduction | Africa | Australia | Malaysia | Complete text, printer-ready PDF format | International Research Correspondents


Africa


This report, based on information provided by Arua E. Arua of the University of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana, summarizes the research presented in the “Focus on Africa” section of the Proceedings of the 1st Pan-African Reading for All Conference (Manaka, 1999 -- the conference occurred in 1999, but the proceedings became available in 2001). The most important topic addressed in this section of the proceedings was the role that language plays in early literacy development. Especially prominent were issues involving mother-tongue literacy, biliteracy, and the formation of practical national language education policies. In addition, other areas discussed in this collection of papers included language policies in African education.

In one such paper, Afolayan (1999) presented evidence to support the adoption of the government’s Six-Year Primary Project, a prototype for solving Africa’s early literacy problems. As a review of previous evaluation reports of the Western Nigerian project, Afolayan’s paper advocates the use of Yoruba, the mother tongue in the region, as the medium of instruction for the first six years of a child’s education and the use of English thereafter. Afolayan reported that the results of the project indicate that the use of Yoruba during this period of early school instruction is feasible, arguing against earlier objections that the mother tongue was not practicable as a language of instruction. The project also shows that the mother tongue is a more effective medium of education when compared to English; in terms of learning, literacy is more easily acquired through Yoruba than through English.

Similarly, the Molteno Project (Duncan, 1995), another program for teaching initial literacy using the mother tongue, was examined in the Pan-African Conference papers (Tambulukani et al., 1999). The project inspects the use of Icibemba as a language of instruction in 25 primary schools in the Northern Province of Zambia. One component of the program, Breakthrough to Literacy, was child centered and capitalized on authentic instructional practices such as the Language Experience Approach (LEA), a literature-based method that uses children’s own dictated stories as the basic text for the children’s reading and writing (Stauffer, 1970). It was reported that the pupils involved in this program made substantive progress in their literacy abilities when compared to children receiving more traditional instruction. Umolu’s (1999) report on the benefits of this approach with Nigerian students with special needs and with those who were nonreaders after their primary school education strengthens the appeal of LEA. As a result of this success, Zambia has put into place a primary reading program based on this model that will be used in its primary schools for the next few years. This initiative seeks to build up English skills in a way that will make English more effective in Zambian schools and society, while recognizing that Zambian languages are the foundation upon which a durable bilingual program can be built.

Williams and Mchazime’s (1999) paper about Malawi’s early literacy also suggests the advantages of bilingual literacy instruction using the mother tongue while acknowledging the need for English as a language of literacy in the region. Their study investigates reading proficiency in English and ChiChewa, the mother tongue, in primary schools. Data were collected using cloze tests, observations of reading lessons, and individual reading sessions with children. In tests conducted in English, boys outperformed girls; however, there was no difference statistically between the performance of boys and girls in the tests in ChiChewa. The study also found that reading, listening comprehension, and speaking in the mother tongue were much easier for students who participated in the study than were the same activities when conducted in English.

Also, in Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, the implementation of bilingual programs has been reported, addressing the advantages of biliteracy programs in African schools. For example, the Namibia Early Language and Literacy Project is designed primarily to support the development of materials for lower primary classes in all African languages in Namibia, while the Namibia Teacher Development Project works to increase the language proficiency of junior- and primary-level teachers. In addition, the Secondary Education Project in Lesotho supports the production of bilingual reading materials for remote highland schools. A similar project in Botswana is producing reading materials in both English and Setswana in remote rural junior secondary schools. Again, these bilingual projects are reported to be beneficial to the pupils involved.

Arua points out that many of the language policies found across Africa fit the following framework: The language of instruction is initially in the mother tongue during the first years of schooling, and second languages such as English, French, or Portuguese are taught as content-area subjects. Later, the languages switch instructional positions, with English or other imported languages becoming the medium of instruction, while the local languages are studied as subjects. This kind of language policy, in which local languages are used for such a limited time as the medium of instruction, has been described as misguided (Tambulukani et al., 1999). Apparently, as is the case in Zambia, the literacy program is designed to make the English language more effective as a language of literacy across all educational levels. This is similar to the aim of many other governments in Anglophone Africa. Though such approaches have caused confusion in some courses, nations such as Ghana have designated certain classes (e.g., arithmetic) to be taught in English while continuing to introduce other mother-tongue languages into the school system.

In summarizing his International Research Correspondent report, Arua asserts that what is required for African literacy education is an integrated national program through the use of mother tongues and English. In order for this to be possible, he concludes that there should be fairness in the way the overwhelming numbers of languages in Africa are treated. As a necessary starting point, Arua believes that African governments should join the global attempt currently being sponsored by the International Reading Association to discuss principles that could be applied when tackling problems related to the issue of multiple language literacy in the world.


References

Afolayan, A. (1999). The alienated role of the mother tongue in literacy education for sustainable national development: The western Nigerian Yoruba example. In S. Manaka (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st Pan-African Conference on Reading for All (pp. 70-88). Pretoria, South Africa: International Reading Association, READ, & UNESCO/DANIDA.
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Duncan, K. (1995). The Molteno Programme for teaching initial literacy in the mother tongue. Molteno Project.
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Manaka, S. (Ed.). (1999). Proceedings of the 1st Pan-African Conference on Reading for All (pp. 70-88). Pretoria, South Africa: International Reading Association, READ, & UNESCO/DANIDA.
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Stauffer, R.G. (1970). The Language Experience Approach to the teaching of reading. New York: Harper & Row.
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Tambulukani, G., Sampa, F., Musuku, R., & Linehan, S. (1999). Reading in Zambia: A quiet revolution through the primary reading programme. In S. Manaka (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st Pan-African Conference on Reading for All (pp. 170-175). Pretoria, South Africa: International Reading Association, READ, & UNESCO/DANIDA.
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Umolu, J. (1999). Strategies for teaching reading to children with special needs: The Nigerian perspective. In S. Manaka (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st Pan-African Conference on Reading for All (pp. 212-217). Pretoria, South Africa: International Reading Association, READ, & UNESCO/DANIDA.
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Williams, E., & Mchazime, H. (1999). Bilingual literacy: Evidence from Malawi. In S. Manaka (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st Pan-African Conference on Reading for All (pp. 218-227). Pretoria, South Africa: International Reading Association, READ, & UNESCO/DANIDA.
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Introduction | Africa | Australia | Malaysia | Complete text, printer-ready PDF format | International Research Correspondents




From Eakle, A.J., & Garber, A.M. (Compilers). (2003). International reports on literacy research. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(1), 142-144. Available: http://www.readingonline.org/international/inter_index.asp?HREF=/international/rrq/38_1/

Reading Online, www.readingonline.org, ISSN 1096-1232
Posted March 2003
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