A Tanzanian district celebrates a year of reading progress

By Jennifer Brookland

April 28, 2015

More than 1,500 people celebrated Education Week in the coastal district of Mtwara, where reading proficiency among second graders has jumped 7 percentage points in the past three years.

Guest of honor Hawa Ghasia, Mtwara’s Minister for Local Governance, spoke at the event about the role Creative Associates International’s TZ21 program had played in realizing the regional literacy improvements.

“Mtwara has managed to enter into the top 10 best performing regions in Tanzania in the national exam results of 2014,” Ghasia announced. “This great success in education is attributed to the fine work and contribution of the primary school education project, TZ21.”

Along with head teachers and school management committee members from every school, Mtwara’s District Commissioner Fatma Ally joined parents, teachers, and community members at the annual event. Local and National government has long strived to improve education in Tanzania, first by boosting enrollment, now with a focus on quality.

“One of the strengths of TZ21 has been its style of implementing the project within the government system,” said Felix Mbogella, TZ21’s Deputy Chief of Party in Mtwara. “This has ensured good planning and coordination of our activities but also it has enhanced the capacity of our government counterpart by working hand in hand with the project team.”

The Education Week celebration, which included songs, local dances, poems and a demonstration class, was held at Mkubilu Primary School—the highest-achieving school in the district on last year’s seventh grade, end-of-year exams.

Children who were leaving second and third grades unable to read were sometimes cycled back to repeat the year, adding to overcrowded classrooms and overwhelmed teachers. Others were nudged along to higher grades where, unable to read lessons and exam questions, they are more likely to fail or drop out.

“It is not a secret that before TZ21, the percentage of students who completed grade seven but still could not read was very high,” Ghasia said in her speech.

As part of the celebration, Ghasia observed two classroom teachers in action, including one who had incorporated e-content developed by TZ21 into the lesson.

The econtent supports a phonics-based reading curriculum and, in Mtwara, was delivered alongside solar panels that could overcome many schools’ lack of reliable access to power.

Mtwara is now the only region in the country to have computers in all primary schools.

Ghasia also took in a reading tent set up to demonstrate the new books and materials available to young learners in the district—locally-produced stories that have not just improved access to text but have sparked a culture of reading.

The reading tents are supported in part by school management committees and other members of the community who recognize the importance of reading and want to make it accessible for their children. Some of them have not seen a book since they were in primary school themselves.

The change these schools are part of is noticeable in more ways than test scores.

More than 1,200 educators trained under the program now feel they have the tools to teach reading effectively, even in large classrooms with few resources.

“After attending a sequence of trainings from TZ21, I feel very much empowered in teaching how to read not only in Kiswahili but in any other local language I know,” said Bibie Hassan, a teacher at Masasi Primary School.

Hassan especially credited the training she received on coaching and mentoring—a key part of the program’s approach to make teacher’s new skills and confidence in the classroom both effective and sustainable. Those workshops “assisted us to communicate among ourselves on how we can sharpen our teaching skills further,” she said.

For her part, Ghasia asked schools across the district to contribute to sustainability by making good use of not only the program-provided technology, but the knowledge of how to teach better.

“These innovations are inspiring and we need to make sure that we sustain them,” she said. “The Tanzanian government will ensure that the sustainability of this project is guaranteed, in order to keep improving reading skills in all Mtwara schools.”

TZ21 will host a regional event on April 28, where all seven of Mtwara’s districts will come together to commemorate the work done in the education sector over the past year.

Reporting by Felix Mbogella and Kizitho Mniwako. Photos by Victor Kyando.

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