As far as attendees, Uganda had 6 volunteers and about 3-6 main staff members working on our presentations. The other 7 countries brought at least one staff member and one volunteer; some brought two staff. I know South Africa brought two volunteers.
The first official day of the conference started with introductions of the goals we had. We also talked about strengths we were bringing and any fears we may have had. This was pretty normal for any conference I’ve been to, but being that we are all about ENGAGING our participants (have some jargon), we did this in an interesting way. We used The Library of Knowledge (cue dramatic music), where the bookshelves are our strengths, the books our goals, and the silverfish (which are not really fish, and I guess are small insects which eat books?) were our fears, eating away our knowledge.
The goal was that at the end of the week we would smash our fears (the fish) with our accomplished goals (the books). This was a pretty cool idea.
These posters were also standing around the room and surprised me because my group is represented on it, which I suppose makes sense (we’ve been here almost a year), but I guess I still see us as the new group. That is no longer true as there was a Health and Agriculture group who was just sworn in in August (whom we lovingly call HAAG), but we are the youngest Ed group.
So Uganda began the presentations. The other people on the team (see: second year Ed volunteers) did most of the presenting, along with Audrey, our fearless literacy leader. I didn’t take many pictures of this because it’s mainly things I’ve seen before.
Basically Uganda’s made some changes beginning with the Ed group before mine, focusing more attention on literacy in early grades versus later ones. Previous volunteers had been working in Secondary schools (like high schools), whereas some from the 2012 group and all of my (2013) group were placed in primary schools (like elementary) and PTCs (primary teacher colleges). This was to emphasize both doing reading interventions at lower grades (primary volunteers) and to train new teachers to incorporate literacy into their teaching practices (college volunteers).
Some successes include DEAR, Drop Everything and Read Day, where more than 35,000 pupils, faculty and staff stopped their normal daily activities to read for 20 minutes straight in a day. This sounds like a very simple thing, but when you work daily with challenges such as lack of books and low reading levels, it’s quite an accomplishment.
We’re also focused on improving the amount of instructional materials used in classrooms. One of the biggest successes we’ve had are Big Books, which I’ve mentioned before. They’re large books with large text and pictures made from grain/rice sacks, materials which are easily available everywhere in the country, even deep in the village! The sacks can also be used to make charts, as seen in some of these pictures. We had a whole wall displaying instructional materials to reinforce literacy.
We also encourage (especially in higher grades, leaning towards comprehension in reading) teachers to ask learners to think more complexly about what they are reading. One example of this is Question and Response.
These techniques allow teachers to ask readers questions about the text that they either have to find evidence for or use prior knowledge for. This kind of reading is not done in Uganda, especially not from teachers to students or pupils. Most of their reading is rote repetition without any checks for understanding or comprehension.
We also discussed integrating literacy into different content areas, something which I work with when teaching my PTC students.
It was cool to hear what other Peace Corps countries are doing in terms of their education programs as well. I didn't get copies of all their presentations (some of them were just on paper, not Power Point), but I took some notes from all of them and here you go! One thing to note – I got pretty lucky in terms of language in Uganda – even if I don’t speak my local language that well, many people speak a few words of English so I can get along with the basics. In many other African countries, French or Portuguese is the main language, and so volunteers must learn and teach in that language, along with informally learning any local languages that may be around. I think I got the easy road on that one.
Some of these presentations were on different days, but I'm putting them all together here.
Literacy clubs in their schools. They also had after school clubs where each club had to produce a newsletter. They work with a trilingual community sometimes (French, Arabic, English), so they produced some HIV/AIDS murals where kids could write facts and awareness text in all three languages. They were also able to get books from Books For Africa (hint hint, look at one of my previous posts) in those three languages!
They have some challenges in terms of not having any sort of materials. A lot of times kids come to class with no notebooks or pens, the teachers don't have markers or large paper, and are only provided chalk.
A very large country where the official language is Portuguese! But many people don't speak it, and the children don't speak it either. As far as literacy goes, they said that 40% of third graders could not recognize any letters. Yikes. The volunteers only work in secondary schools, but have had some success with community libraries and after school tutoring to help with literacy. Literacy training is not currently a part of their PST.
Gambia had a program where some volunteers biked to 25 different primary schools to teach read alouds with teachers there – insane! they also have their own mobile library as their mail is brought to site by their Peace Corps vehicle
PCVs here start teaching grades 5-7, then move up with their kids and teach 5-6-7 the next year. They can add teacher training to their model but the second year is less structured than the first.
They had had successes with English clubs and literacy through the arts. They also work with an organization called Biblionef (if I'm spelling this right?) in South Africa which has local language and English books.
Here there's about a 63% literacy rate, and many kids in Grade 6 cannot read a single word. All instruction is in English and if you don't know English you are looked down upon. The problem with this - many teachers are also not fluent, and they are using American textbooks which is just even more confusing. Some small success comes with a story about a student teaching a parent to read, but that seems to be the exception. They also talk about creativity and trying to play games with the students, but many of them just want to know what they have to to pass the test.
Here PCVs work in Junior High (Math, Science and English) and in Preschool! Eek, my heart goes out to them for preschool. If the preschool is nonformal, then the government doesn't give them any funding, so they have to find donations and volunteers for everything. Their teachers are even community volunteers and many don't have any teacher training. Sometimes these school can get UNICEF funding or donations. NGOs set up an expectation of everything being free, so it's difficult to get parents to contribute to help out their kids.
Sierra Leone -
Even though their program is suspended pending the resolution of the Ebola crisis, they are still programming for when they begin receiving volunteers again. These guys were great to talk to. I think I was pulled away a bit during their presentation but maybe one of my readers can fill me in - this is what I remember. Basically they have a really good relationship with the government in terms of education, and whatever initiatives they want to try are fully supported. PCVs work in universities as well as more local colleges to try and improve the teaching techniques.
So this has been kind of long so I'm gonna cut off here with a question - what programs or activities do you remember in your schools or communities which promoted literacy? Which ones did you really like or enjoy? Which ones were not so good?
Stay tuned for more posts on the conference!