Episode 1 – A is not for Apple
“This podcast was born somewhere in 2016, in the small village of Nkozi in Central Uganda, not far from one of the spots where the equator line crosses the country. I had recently completed my PhD in Education and was involved in various projects in which we were trying to understand how we could improve the outcomes of our education system – especially those in the early years.
For decades, now, the national assessments on the outcomes in the early years of schooling in Uganda had repeatedly shown that after 3 years in primary school, up to 7 out of every 10 children were unable to read at Primary 2 level and that by the 7th year of primary school 3 out of 10 still couldn’t read at Primary 2 level. The findings for numeracy were not much better, and it seemed that many other African countries were facing similar problems. The other reason it made sense for me to focus on the early childhood years is also that when these early basic skills are not properly developed, it becomes harder for children to acquire the higher-order skills that are the focus at higher levels of education.
As we pondered the bigger questions around this, I thought I would run a small pilot at a nearby primary school, to test if providing more reading texts, as well as more reading time, would result in better outcomes. I hoped to do this by setting up a reading club, but before I did that, I wanted to gauge the reading level of the children, so that I could select the right books with which to begin. The head of the Lower Primary School section very obligingly led me to the primary 3 class and gave me some of the reading texts that the children were using to learn how to read. I asked each child, in turn, to read a few lines from one of the books, and even though I thought we might encounter some problems I was still surprised by how little the children could read. Curious about the lower years I asked the Lower School Head to bring me to the Primary 1 classroom so I could see how they had started off. It was empty when I got there but looked just like a typical rural primary 1 classroom. The walls of this room were lined with hand-drawn learning resources showing various scenes in community and family life, mathematical shapes, colors, and the like, and pinned prominently at the front of the class was the large and familiar Alphabet Chart – starting as usual with A is for Apple, and B is for – wait: A is for what?
I have launched this podcast because I have reached the limits of my own thinking, reading, and speaking; and I know that this is a multifaceted problem, and therefore can best be understood by collecting diverse perspectives – what do scholars think about this? How do school children experience, and perhaps overcome this? What about Education Ministry officials? Traditional Leaders? Politicians? Parents? Businessmen? Futurists? Poets? Historians? Teachers? How can we, as thinking Africans, find a way to cut up this big elephant in bite-size pieces, and hopefully create a homegrown solution in time to provide a better education for the swarms of children that are getting ready to hit the continent?” Dr. Connie Nshemereirwe
Dr. Connie Nshemereirwe is an independent science and policy facilitator and acts at the science-policy interface as a trainer, writer, and speaker. She is the director of the Africa Science Leadership Programme (ASLP) based at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and also works with the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) based in Nairobi, Kenya. Through organizations like these, she works with both academics and policymakers to contribute to evidence-based policy.