Mother-tongue Storybooks Spark A Legacy Of Literacy In Rural Mozambique 

Vamos Ler! has improved nearly 800,000 students’ reading and writing skills by developing, printing and distributing millions of books written in Emakhuwa, Echuwabo and Elomwe, the three most commonly spoken languages in Mozambique

By Fernanda Matsinhe

September 14, 2021

Nampula Province in Mozambique João Manuel’s interest in reading was sparked before he began school. His older brother brought home books in their local language, and Manuel started to look through them even though he could not read yet.

“I used to see my brother and his friends reading their small books at home last year, and I liked to see the beautiful illustrations inside,” says Manuel, age 6.

João Manuel reads to his teacher, community leader, and father in front of his school in Murrupula district, Nampula. (Photo By: Julio Bernardo)

Manuel is completing his first year of school and has already become a strong reader with support from the USAID-funded Vamos Ler!/Let’s Read! bilingual education program implemented in partnership with Mozambique’s Ministry of Education.

Vamos Ler! has improved nearly 800,000 students’ reading and writing skills by developing, printing and distributing 11 million books written in Emakhuwa, Echuwabo and Elomwe – the three most commonly spoken languages in Mozambique. The program is also working on second language acquisition and literacy support to prepare children for a gradual transition to Portuguese at the 2,000 bilingual public schools it supports.

Early access to reading materials is an important part of building literacy. However, children in rural Mozambique often have little to no exposure to books prior to entering school. Books they do have access to are typically in Portuguese rather than in their mother tongue, making learning to read a challenge.

While Portuguese is the national language of instruction, fewer than 10 percent of children speak it when they start school.

Learning to read in a language they already speak and understand not only makes school more interesting and less intimidating for young students but also helps to lay a foundation for lifelong learning.

The supplementary reading books have child-friendly illustrations and stories that are relevant to daily life in rural Mozambique, while also sparking children’s curiosity and introducing new ideas and concepts that let them discover a world full of possibilities. 

Complementing the Ministry of Education’s initiatives, Vamos Ler! supported school managers to ensure continuation of learning in low-tech environments. The program encouraged teachers and school directors to lend these storybooks to children to read at home with their families.

Ana Paula Antonia, Manuel’s teacher and the school director, says Manuel’s reading skills developed at an early age prior to enrolling in school because Manuel and his siblings read books in their mother-tongue while at home. (Photo By: Julio Bernardo)

Ana Paula Antonia is Manuel’s teacher and the director of his school in Murrupula district, Nampula province. She worked to ensure students could continue reading at home during the COVID-19 pandemic school closures and has been impressed by how young students like Manuel were able to grow independently under challenging circumstances.

“It was surprising for me to see how João developed so quickly, despite being in his first year in school. I have no doubt that [João] always being close to his brother and friends and reading their books has helped him,” says Antonia.

Manuel’s father is proud of his son’s progress and credits Manuel’s literacy skills to “playing” with his brother’s Vamos Ler! storybooks at an early age.



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