Monday, April 18, 2016

By the Book

I have written about the new Minister of Education, Joyce Ndalichako, on this blog before (, and now she is making headlines again.  A recent article in the Daily News describes her desire to inculcate and nurture a culture of reading amongst Tanzanian youth.

According to the piece's heading: "The availability of locally relevant Kiswahili readers and English novels, written especially with Tanzanian youth in mind, will encourage Tanzanian students to improve their literacy and language skills.  This, in turn, will contribute to their success on their secondary school examinations, their future studies, and their full participation in society."

A tall order, but a tasty one.  Smacks a bit of Toa Nafasi in the "assessment of primary schoolchildren as an opportunity to determine whether they are developing crucial foundational skills" arena, eh?

Read on below….


The Minister for Education, Science, and Vocational Training, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, has appealed to students in the country to nurture their love of reading, not only because it's a hobby, but also because it is useful to read for education, for wider knowledge, and to open new horizons and opportunities.

"Reading is a gift that has been given to you by your teachers.  Treasure it, for it will be the key to future success," Prof. Ndalichako told pupils from Maktaba and Chang'ombe Primary Schools and students from Chang'ombe Secondary School during the Children's Book Project 25th Anniversary which took place in Dar es Salaam recently.

Ms. Sarah Mlaki who read the speech on behalf of the minister, also launched the Mbinu Saba guide, an evaluation report supported by CODE and the government of Canada and Round Six set of books published with the support of the Burt Award for African Literature in Tanzania.  She also presented awards to the winners of Round Seven.

"In this case, I would like to appreciate Children's Book Project (CBP) for Tanzania's contributions to the improvement of the quality of education through provision of learning materials and and training of teachers using Mbinu Saba and for providing results of the comprehensive assessment on the readership program.

I look forward to the Mbinu Saba guide to be distributed to as many teachers as possible through NGOs' support and donors, and BAAL publications of this year to be distributed to as many schools as possible across the country."

Assessment of students' learning in primary grades offers an opportunity to determine whether children are developing the foundational skills upon which all other literacy skills are built and where the efforts need to be directed.

This is vital information for improving the quality of education in schools.  The CBP 25th Anniversary celebration recognized the critical importance of literacy as a tool for learning.  Literacy is vital for individuals and also for the development of the community and the country.

Tanzania has agreed that illiteracy and gender disparities in education need to be addressed.  "Through the 'Education for All' act, we have committed to increase literacy rates by 50 percent by 2025, and through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the government has committed to eliminate gender disparities at all levels of education by 2025," Prof. Ndalichako noted.

There are specific initiatives that are dedicated to helping girls and boys to develop not just basic literacy, but an active love of reading that will last their entire lives.  In 2013, the government unveiled the Big Results Now (BRN) initiatives as a way to fast-track the path from a low to middle-income country.

As one of the six focal areas, the education sector has received much attention, especially in the early primary grades.  Education was deemed as one of the priority sectors in the BRN initiatives, specifically for addressing the disparity between improved school access and declining school quality.

"I would like to pay tribute to those who work behind the scenes - teachers, publishers, writers, and many other hard-working individuals who help others acquire literacy skills.  Their work enables people to access a world of opportunities," she further said.  The minister congratulated teachers, librarians in particular, for their tireless efforts to pass on the precious skill of literacy to Tanzanian children and youth.

Teachers have an enormous responsibility and opportunity to help these young girls and boys develop skills that will enable them to gain access to information, to analyze it, and to make decisions about their futures.

On her part, Executive Secretary of the Children's Book Project, Ms. Pili Dumea, said they have prepared 320 copies of books, six of which are written in English.  According to her, the books were published early January this year, and they plan to publish another five books shortly.

They also prepared a lot of Swahili books to reach many children who prefer to read in their mother tongue.  "CBP has produced around 5,000 books, sold 3,000, and others have been sold in the common market."

"At the beginning of this project, we started with six primary schools in each district," Ms Dumea said, and now they can reach 200 primary schools and five teacher colleges from the Eastern and Central Regions as well as the library communities in Turiani, Mkuranga, and Rufiji districts.  Most of these schools are in Dar es Salaam, Coast Region, Dodoma, and Morogoro.

In the program of study, 5,050 teachers were trained in new methods of teaching children to read and write.  In 2012 and 2013, CBP, in collaboration with CODE Reading Specialists, Prof. Alison Preece and Prof. Charlie Temple, conducted three training workshops in Mlandizi for fifty potential trainers.  Shortly after the last workshop, the CODE Reading Specialists prepared a Mbinu Saba guidebook that supported the teaching methodologies shared in the workshops.

Speaking while making presentation of the Mbinu Saba guidebook, Mr. Marcus Mbigili noted that the guidebook was also intended to remind teachers on the steps to the methodologies introduced in the workshops.

CBP translated the English version into Kiswahili and worked on it to fit the Tanzanian context.  The guidebook contains seven general areas, which include introducing students to Literacy, Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Reading Fluency, Comprehension, Vocabulary, and Writing.

"These seven areas of skill development contain the five that are currently being stressed by the different organizations and programs in Tanzania.  In order to teach reading well, teachers should learn a number of concepts and strategies under these seven general areas," Mr. Mbigili noted.

The Children's Book Project for Tanzania started in 1991 in response to Tanzania's acute shortage of books for children and lack of adequate skills among education sector personnel to produce these reading materials.

CBP set out to assist with the production and distribution of relevant reading materials and to encourage and support indigenous authorship.  Children's Book Project for Tanzania was founded by the Canadian organization CODE in response to the urgent need of books for school-aged children in Tanzania.

The Children's Book Project for Tanzania does not only receive support from CODE, but also from other organizations including SIDA, DANIDA, HIVOS, the International Reading Association, the Canada Fund, and Aga Khan Foundation as well as the government of the Netherlands and the British Council.  Individual projects are funded by various banks in Tanzania.

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