Assessing the Cultural Relevance of English Literacy Programmes
August 4 2016

Just before schools in Zambia close for the holiday, our team in Livingstone managed to catch some of the grades five to seven students to undertake a cultural relevance questionnaire.  These questionnaires are carried out periodically to find out the children’s attitude towards the different reading programmes that are being used and evaluated in our Book Clubs.  The Happy Readers programme was created in Zimbabwe, and its main characters are all African animals.  The Oxford Reading Tree programme, however, contains stories about an English human family.  The cultural relevance questionnaire asks the children about similarities and differences between their lives and culture and the ones described in the books.  Researchers from Coventry University want to identify any connections that can be made between the different reading programmes and the children’s reading progress.

Before any questions were asked, project volunteers and interns each sat with a group of children and retold the stories they had read during the last Book Club sessions.  Then, interns from Copperbelt University translated the English questions into Tonga, so that the children were able to completely understand them. 

All data collected from the questionnaires has been sent to our partners at Coventry University for analysis.

Meanwhile, at our project site in Gweru, Zimbabwe, literacy classes which began earlier in 2016 have been disrupted by end-of-term exams this month.  The first group of students to join the project - whose reading ability was assessed at the start and subsequently - are progressing well, having all completed the nine books of Happy Readers stage one.  Every child has also read at least three books from the library, and has written a summary of each one.  Over the coming weeks, the students will have their progress reviewed again, and will revisit any areas of weakness to receive extra help.

The remaining 60 students, who joined the project later in the year, are yet to be assessed to evaluate their progress.  50 have also completed the first stage of the Happy Readers programme, whilst the remaining ten are currently on book seven.  On average, each student has read two books from the library. 

Students’ confidence in the use of English in general communication is improving.  They are more motivated to speak in English to staff, volunteers and peers, whereas before they would shy away from trying to communicate in this second language.

As schools are officially closing for the holidays, and few children attend Book Club in August, sessions will be off-syllabus - focusing on reading games, riddles and library books to build upon existing learning - until schools reopen again.


About Book Club

English is the official language of both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and without good proficiency in English reading and writing, students will likely be excluded from many aspects of active citizenship, including employment opportunities.   English proficiency also helps students to better understand all their school subjects, and to be able to tackle exams, which are given in English.  In partnership with Coventry University, ALERT has established English literacy programs at weekly Book Clubs to improve children’s English literacy levels and foster a love of reading.  Pupils attending book clubs are tested to establish their current reading age, and then tailored, locally appropriate, assistance is provided to improve literacy using educational materials from AXIS Education, TESSA and Happy Readers.  A library system provides pupils access to a wide-range of reading level appropriate books.

About ALERT Education Centres (AEC)

English literacy courses are one aspect of the work of our ALERT Education Centres.  The AEC operations at Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) are all aimed at supporting the formal education system by offering extra-curricular activities to enhance student learning, and assisting with access to education for vulnerable students.  Current programs include the provision of classes in conservation education, basic life skills, and English literacy.  In addition, we provide funding to pay the fees of vulnerable students to take part in education from pre-school to university level, and fully funded internship and facilitated research placements for university level students.  Future programmes will incorporate classes in numeracy, health & nutrition, physical education and business studies / entrepreneurship, as well as a variety of vocational training.  The AEC is operated in association with Coventry University (UK), Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Copperbelt University (Zambia), and with the assistance of David Brackstone of John Taylor High School (UK).   The first AEC, at Antelope Park, was opened in 2012 by the then Zimbabwe Minister of Education, Mr. David Coltart.

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