The state minister for Primary Education, Rosemary Seninde, has urged schools and parents to prioritize reading lessons in order to improve grades at primary level.
In a speech read for her by the director for Basic and Secondary Education, Robinson Nsumba Lyazi, the minister said it is essential that children learn to read during their early years so that they can read to understand.
“As a country, our best opportunity is to teach children of classes primary one to three to read early enough,” Seninde said. “If this window is missed, then children who have not begun to read and understand what they read will continue to fall behind unless swift action is taken.”
This was at the launch of the Usaid/Uganda Literacy Achievement and Retention Activity project held at Namutamba Demonstration primary school in Mityana, last week.
Under the motto “Safer Schools, Better Reading”, the five-year project that aims at improving early grade reading (EGR) and promote positive and supportive school climates will be implemented by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International.
Jana Wooden, the Usaid education development officer, said the EGR program builds upon the success of Usaid’s school health and reading program that has developed reading books for primary one to four children in 12 local languages as well as English.
“It has been proved that children learn to read faster and better when they learn in their mother tongue first, and then transition to English. And this is what we are striving to achieve in the EGR program,” Wooden said.
She added that the ability to read is a critical tool for acquiring other types of knowledge but once children fail to read in the early school days, their grades will fall further each school year.
Usaid senior education specialist, Consilous Rwanyonga, told The Observer that the EGR programme targets to reach 1.3 million learners by 2020. Already, the programme is being implemented in 13 districts and 15 more have just been included on the list.
In the 2016/17 school year, the second phase of the project will roll out activities in Ntungamo, Rubirizi, Kyegegwa, Kalangala, Mityana, Luweero, Masaka, Bukomansimbi, Sembabule, Kalungu, Lyantonde, Isingiro, Kanungu, Buhweju and Rukungiri districts.
“All the reading materials have been developed according to the thematic curriculum. Each child will have two personal reading books; one in English and another in a local language because we have more than enough,” Rwanyonga said.
In addition to supplying reading materials, the EGR program will build the capacity of teachers to teach reading as well as assist district staff to improve supervision and school-based support.
Over the next five years, learners will be subjected to EGR assessments in the months of February and October as the Usaid staff continues to check on the children’s reading levels on a daily basis in the same districts.
Mityana woman MP Judith Nabakooba urged parents to provide bags for children even if they are locally made or polythene bags to safely carry the reading materials to and from their homes.
Meanwhile, as Uganda marks the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence that started on Friday last week, Seninde said the ministry will profile schools with high cases of violence.
Some schools have already been reported to the office of the permanent secretary, ministry of education while those with a track record of supporting safer, positive and supportive learning environments will be recognised.