In late September, MVP education team members from New York, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya gathered for a workshop hosted by MVP Mwandama in Malawi to share ideas and approaches to teaching children basic literacy. The workshop included local partner organizations also focusing on literacy in the Zomba Rural district, including representatives from Save the Children and RTI’s Early Grade Reading Activity office, as well as the District Education Manager and the two Primary Education Advisors for St. Anthony and Namadidi zones. Cognitive psychologist and World Bank literacy expert Dr. Helen Abadzi shared scientific research behind her method to teaching basic literacy in the local language, which inspired the pilot of a village learning center based literacy program which began in June 2014. Workshop participants discussed their approaches to teaching basic literacy, shared lessons learned from their experiences, and exchanged new ideas. All participants agreed that basic literacy instruction required a targeted focus on letter sounds, rather than names, and increased practice with decoding and reading words to increase fluency.
On the second day of the workshop, all participants visited a Village Learning Center to observe a class being taught, and engaged in a detailed debate about the strengths and areas for improvement within the current literacy program pilot in Mwandama. The Malawi team shared concrete details on the creation of a textbook that introduces one letter at a time and provides extra text for reading practice, data gathering plans, and program implementation guidelines. Going forward, as the education sector of the Millennium Villages Project focuses more and more on quality of education and ensuring that students in school are learning basic literacy skills, this approach to teaching reading can be adapted and applied to other MVP contexts such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, where national language policies in early primary school grades are in place (in Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili).