Bringing Local Language Literacy to Mayange, Rwanda
By: Aimee Vachon, MVP summer intern 2015
Beginning in July 2015, a new twist on an age-old approach to teaching literacy was introduced through a pilot program at four schools in the Mayange, Rwanda community. Initially piloted in 2014 at the MVP site in Mwandama, Malawi, the program focuses on the classic approach of teaching letter sounds as building blocks in a new way. Based on education psychologist Dr. Helen Abadzi’s tested method for teaching literacy, the program centers on a textbook featuring large, isolated letters and words. The idea is to allow students the chance to connect the letter sound to the printed version of the letter by encouraging the student to say the sounds aloud while pointing to the corresponding letter or word. The book introduces one letter at a time, followed by syllables, simple words, and sentences. This method has been tried in several other contexts, but this is the first time it’s being introduced in Rwanda.
The program was introduced in four schools in early July both as part of the daily curriculum for preschool classes and as an afterschool program for students in the first three years of primary school. Integrating into the existing school structure, the program for both preschool and primary students is being taught by preschool teachers, who received training in how to use the program textbook and properly teach letter sounds. The goal of this program is to ensure that every child learns how to read in Ikinyarwanda (the local language) at the early primary level. Improving literacy rates in both Ikinyarwanda and English is a top priority for the Ministry of Education, who has recently been doubling their efforts to improve the quality of learning in schools. Further improving Ikinyarwanda literacy will likely have a twofold effect in Rwanda due to the current policies for language instruction. At present, English is introduced as the primary mode of instruction in the later primary grades, and research shows that the reading skills learned in one’s native language help to ease the learning process for additional language learning. Having a solid foundation in Ikinyarwanda early on will actually help students to grasp English more quickly and easily later.
Since the start of the program, teachers have been monitored on a weekly basis to both check program progress and to provide teachers with support and encouragement. Preschool teachers in Rwanda are not required to have a formal teaching certification, so many preschool teachers throughout the country have little to no formal training. Programs like this one are not only an excellent opportunity to improve student literacy, but a positive and motivating experience for preschool teachers, who benefit from an increased level of training and support.
This program was previously tried Mwandama, Malawi’s Village learning centers, taught in an after school community based setting, taught by volunteers. One major difference between the Malawi program and the Rwanda program is the targeted age group. In Rwanda, the program targets both preschoolers (3-5 year olds) and primary students (6-8 year olds), creating new challenges and new opportunities for this literacy model. For preschool students, they are learning letters for the first time, unlike primary students who are likely to have had some limited exposure to letters already. This presents a wonderful opportunity to truly measure and understand the effectiveness of this model in the Rwandan context. The pilot will continue in Rwanda through early December, culminating at the end of the Rwandan school year, which runs January-December of each year.