Annie Reading's Blog

Fostering Reading Skills in Africa: How Libraries Produce Results in Primary Education

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have lately seen unprecedented growth in the numbers of students enrolling in schools. As exciting as this growth may be, it is becoming increasingly clear that just being in school isn’t enough to guarantee educational success for these students.

The primary school years are important markers for a child’s success in future pursuits. Not only does the early adoption of reading skills improve learning abilities in other areas of school, but students who don’t excel in basic skills early are far more likely to get discouraged and choose to discontinue their education.

Even in countries where the majority of students enroll in primary school, large numbers of children complete primary school without the basic literacy skills they need to continue to secondary school or pursue a generative livelihood. The Research Triangle Institute, which has conducted reading assessment programs in nearly 4 dozen countries, reports that in some countries, over 70% of students could not read a single word in a given line of simple text, even after two to three years of school.

What are these students missing?

Fortunately, there are many ways that schools and communities can guarantee increased literacy results, provided they have the resources to do so. A big one is increasing the availability of reading materials through things like community libraries and book banks.

Many of us take access to books for granted, but reading enrichment outside the classroom just isn’t possible for many children because reading materials aren’t available to them. This is where libraries come in. Libraries provide students with valuable opportunities to practice and develop learned skills.

Seeing results

Rebecca Winthrop recently published an article entitled, Education in Africa—The Story Isn’t Over, which provides a compelling argument for focusing not only on accessibility of education, but also on the quality of education students receive once in school. The availability of reading materials, she argues, is a critical factor to the overall success of students’ formative primary school years:
“An initiative by the philanthropic organization Save the Children to create village book banks found that, at the end of one year, students in Malawi demonstrated progress in letter identification, oral reading fluency, and connected text comprehension, as compared with students in other villages who began with similar scores in each area.”

It’s clear now that simply sending children to school isn’t enough to guarantee growth and prosperity in the long run. We must also work to provide the materials and spaces for African students to put their classroom learning to use.

How can you help?

One of Givology’s partners, The Yonso Project, has already assisted in the creation of libraries in two communities in Ghana, and plans for a third facility are currently in the making. Check out their Givology profile, or click here to find more details about their library projects.


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  • Joyce Meng

    re:Fostering Reading Skills in Africa: How Libraries Produce Results in Primary Education

    Thanks for the article Annie! I can't agree with you more. When I visited the Circle of Peace School (one of our partners), I was really shocked to discover that their library had a lot of NGO pamphlets, really old donated books from the 1970s, and marketing materials that were just left behind. Old newspapers and magazines were saved, but definitely not the quality material that you're referring to. We're starting a partnership with Dream Corp, an organization that builds libraries in rural China. Nanubhai also built some libraries in India. Without good material to practice on, one can imagine it must be hard for the children to really practice skills they acquired!

    Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 01:04:51 AM

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