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Celebrating a New Generation of Malawi Readers

Imagine 2.2 million books. Who’s going to read them all? Young readers in Malawi, to whom  textbooks and supplementary readers were donated during a ceremony to celebrate International Literacy Day. The celebration had extra significance as Malawi’s National Reading Program (NRP)—supported by USAID’s Abt-led Yesani Ophunzira (YESA) Activity—is entering a new phase that will directly impact student literacy.

Jeremy with Students - YESA Chief of Party, Jeremy Koch, reads to Standard 3 students during the International Literacy Day event.
YESA Chief of Party, Jeremy Koch, reads to Standard 3 students during the International Literacy Day event.

A History Lesson

The NRP was crafted to address the fact that, after two years of formal education, 75 percent of students in Malawi have been unable to read a single, familiar word. Words such as “amai” (mother) and “atate” (father)—the first words children learn to speak in Chichewa—remain unfamiliar to the vast majority when seen in print.

Understanding that reading lays the foundation for all future learning, Abt—through YESA—has:

  • Trained more than 47,000 Standard 1 – 4 teachers.
  • Developed classroom assessments that are aligned with the reading curriculum.
  • Developed a remediation approach that provides targeted skill building activities to help students develop foundational literacy skills.

The program scaled up the remedial education program that was cited in the Nobel prize awarded to Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer and Abhijit Banerjee.  Banerjee and Duflo rigorously evaluated the effectiveness of the remedial program in India using a randomized control trial; Dr. Balaji Sampath, who has worked with Banerjee on this program in India, consulted with Abt on the YESA project.

A New Start

USAID banner for National Reading Programme Continuous Assessment
Through USAID’s YESA program, Abt trained more than 47,000 teachers and developed continuous assessments and remediation activities to promote literacy in Malawi.

This school year is the first in which teachers will share what they’ve learned through YESA, translating their training to the students in the classroom. “Teachers have left the training venues excited because they can immediately recognize the benefits these materials will have on their students’ reading skills,” Abt’s Chief of Party Jeremy Koch wrote in a recent blog.

In anticipation of greater success for students, the event reinforced the importance of children reading every single day and caring for their schoolbooks. Parents and community members were encouraged to help children read and to help them care for their books so that future students will be able to explore those books.

“All children deserve the opportunity to learn to read and engage with books,” said U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Robert Scott, who joined several stakeholders—including Malawi’s Secretary of Education, Science and Technology—at the ceremony.  “All children, including those with disabilities must have access to reading material so that they can learn and grow.”

See more photos from the event on Facebook.

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