Reading camps nurtures ‘Reading Champions‘ in Zambia
Proud parents accompany young anxious faces seated in a hall with a large stage, big speakers and onlookers who have come to witness a reading competition. This one is extraordinary because the categories include children as young as six years. This is not an age that is associated with reading in rural areas like Lufwanyama district. More than 50 years after independence from colonial rule, this district has never had learning center’s for younger children in its villages. In 2016, the Ministry of Education estimated that over 65% of children in grade 2-3 were not able to read and or write a single word in their local language.
11-year-old Chimuka is one of the competitors in this reading competition. She stays with her mother in St. Joseph, a small village known for its history with missionaries. She likes helping her mother with house chores and later enjoys playing outdoor activities with her friends. When she grows up, she wants to become a nurse. Chimuka had always wished to read story books but this was a challenge as she comes from a home where her mother cannot read or write. At school, she had to share one reading book with three of her classmates which made learning to read a bigger challenge. In spite of these challenges she kept the dream of learning how to read as she narrates:
“I found it very hard to learn how to read because we had to share one book with my friends and some of them knew how to read better than I did so it made me feel shy. Some of my friends were lucky because their parents knew how to read but for me I had no one to help me.”
When Save the Children through the sponsorship programme bought and distributed supplementary reader’s books at her school, all that changed.
“One day I saw people from Save the Children bringing a trunk full of story books to our school. When I saw the different books with nice pictures in them, I became excited. I was finally going to have a book to myself and learn how to read interesting stories” says Chimuka with bright eyes.
When Save the Children introduced reading camp sessions at her school three years ago, Chimuka was one of the first children to participate. Because of her difficulties in reading, the reading camp counsellor had to start by introducing her to letter identification, vowels, syllables, word formation and later on sentence construction in Bemba (the local language).
According to Cecillia Banda, Save the Children Sponsorship Education Coordinator, “We have seen remarkable results from using reading camps in our programming. Reading camps are designed to encourage children to see reading as a fun and engaging activity that is useful in all situations, not just for school. Through this approach, Chimuka was encouraged to attend the reading sessions and her life has drastically changed. Her literacy and confidence has significantly improved. She is now able to read most of the books which include difficult words that most children her age pronounce with difficulty.”
I am so happy that I have finally learnt how to read and my mother is very proud that I have won the reading competition. She is happy to see me win books, pencils, pens, a ruler and erasers. My friends and I never miss a reading session and we even invite our friends from other schools to come read with us.” Chimuka shares with a bright smile.
Save the Children has demonstrated leadership in inclusive early childhood care development and education through various innovations such as the Literacy Boost (LB). Literacy Boost is built on evidence. Using this assessment approach, Save the Children sites can identify needs and track progress in helping children learn the early and emergent reading skills that are essential to becoming literate. Literacy Boost views reading as a complex task that integrates strong oral language development and background knowledge with the use of skills relating to the use of text, letter knowledge, phonological processing, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Many of these skills can be assessed quickly and repeatedly, with tools and measures that everyone – from parents to ministers – can easily grasp.
Literacy Boost is being implemented in 30 schools benefitting over ten thousand children, the majority of whom are girls like Chimuka. This intervention has 30 active reading camps which have been supported with book boxes and children are allowed to borrow books from these book boxes (as well as in school libraries). So far, 47 teachers (31 females and 16 males) have been trained in Literacy Boost. Eighteen teachers and Twelve reading camp volunteers have been trained in local materials development training. The informal Literacy Boost review by teachers and the camp session demonstrations show that teachers and reading camp instructors appreciate the use of locally available materials as teaching aids. The colourful and vivid illustrations during the lessons and reading camp sessions speak to the children’s reality and motivate them to read.
Beyond the direct interventions, Save the Children continues advocating for increased investment in early childhood education in Zambia. The priority in infrastructure development has seen Zambia’s external debt continue on its growth trajectory at USD $10.05 billion (end of 2018) from USD $8.47 billion (end of 2017). The increase in debt servicing allocation in the national budget has seen a reduction in the allocation to child sensitive social sectors such as education. In the 2019 national budget, Early Childhood Education which is the foundation stage for reading made up only 0.1% of the education sector allocation.