Improving literacy, numeracy in primary schools

THE Literacy Week, which was commemorated in Chipata from June 5-9, drew exhibitors from different parts of Zambia. Right, children reading during the Literacy Week. PICTURES: MINISTRY OF GENERAL EDUCATION

IT IS the vision of the Ministry of General Education to provide education for all Zambians to enable them attain knowledge and skills resulting in enhanced uprightness, democratic ideals, and dignity.

To realise this vision, the ministry has crafted policies and programmes, including assessments of learner performance among all pupils to ensure the delivery of quality education.
It is for this reason that the ministry and the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) conducts the national assessment surveys every two years. At regional level Zambia participates in the Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ) survey which assesses learner achievements, particularly grade six learners in member states every two years.
From 2008 to 2012, however, the national assessment survey revealed that learning achievements of pupils in primary school remained static at an average of 40 percent. Similarly, SACMEQ surveys conducted in the aforementioned years showed that there were no improvements among learners in its three surveys.
The contributing factors for such low achievements were identified and interpreted as follows: more than 16 percent of school populations are an initiative of community schools which are managed by communities, and have no qualified teachers, coupled with poor infrastructure and learning environment, limited learning and teaching materials.
The low achievements by learners in numeracy and literacy continued to be a challenge for some years. This necessitated the revision of the education curriculum as some deficiencies were noted among learners and teachers.
The Zambia National Education Curriculum was implemented in 2014 by the Ministry of General Education with support from cooperating partners. Its overall intention was to improve quality of education delivery. Of particular importance is the focus on improving numeracy and literacy levels in early grades.
Ministry of General Education permanent secretary Henry Tukombe explained that the low learner performance in early grades made the ministry seek some intervention, and in working with partners, introduced the Primary Literacy Programme (PLP). Under PLP schools came up with catch-up remedial work. This programme has drawn the attention of cooperating partners.
“The programme, still in pilot stages, entails training of teachers where the assessment surveys showed least results, including district and provincial resource centre coordinators, zone in-service coordinators, and education officers. These were trained on how to conduct remedial work using the Indian version of Teaching at the Right Level (TARL) intervention. The TARL, which is known as the catch-up programme, is particularly looking at grades three to five,” Mr Tukombe explained.
He noted that TARL has proved effective in bridging the gap between slow and fast learners as they are assessed in literacy and thereafter grouping them according to levels of ability. For example, the understanding of syllables, letter sound and letter recognition are taught. This is different from the old style where learners just used to read the words altogether without understanding syllables.
“For numeracy early grade learners are taught place identification, that is, recognition of figures, place value and others,” he said.
Mr Tukombe explained that in December 2015, the ministry started the programme on remedial work known as catch-up or TARL in two provinces – Eastern and Southern, which were identified as the least performers among provinces according to SACMEQ results. The pilot programme started in Katete, Chipata, Monze and Pemba districts.
He noted that Chipata pilot results are showing dramatic improvements in numeracy and literacy after a month of catch-up work, indicating that the programme is very effective. He narrated that results from Southern Province are also showing tremendous improvements in learner performance.
“Preliminary results from Southern Province are also indicating much higher positive results in comparison to Eastern Province. The full results of this intervention will be compiled in 2017 and then the programme will be rolled out to all provinces in 2018,” Mr Tukombe explained.
Although the re-introduction of the use of local languages by early graders was received with mixed reactions from the public, particularly parents of learners, great improvements among pupils especially in rural and periphery areas have been recorded by the Ministry of General Education.
Mr Tukombe added that the new curriculum is already yielding results countrywide, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas where early grade learners are keen on using local languages.
Literacy and numeracy competence assessments conducted in 2014 and 2015 show marked improvements in literacy and numeracy with more than 53 percent of children performing above average.
This has primarily been attributed to the revised education curriculum. Other notable programmes that have helped the learners are the “Let’s read Zambia” project which looks at the promotion of early grade literacy and numeracy.
These results indicate distinct improvements that have been made in literacy and numeracy for the past two years in comparison to results obtained from 2008 to 2012. The 2014 SACMEQ survey also indicates considerable improvements in performance among pupils regarding literacy and numeracy.

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