Getting Inspiring Readers started in Malawi

24th April 2017 | Blog

Thanks to the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have recently expanded our flagship school libraries programme Inspiring Readers to Malawi. Inspiring Readers brings books to the classrooms of pupils who would otherwise have few or no books in their schools. Schools are also linked with their local libraries where teachers receive training in how to make the most of books in the classroom.

Book Aid International Education Officer, Ashleigh Brown, recently travelled to Malawi before the books arrive in the classrooms to conduct a ‘baseline survey’. The survey is an important part of understanding the programme’s impacts. We caught up with her to find out more about the purpose of the survey, what the findings were and what her hopes are for Inspiring Readers in Malawi.

Pupils have no choice but to learn outside

Why was Malawi chosen as an Inspiring Readers location?

Malawi’s population has grown rapidly over the last decade and is forecast to have tripled to 45 million by 2020. Many of its 16 million population live below the poverty line and rely on subsistence farming. The expanding population has put substantial pressure on resources including on educational provision.

In 1994 Malawi announced universal primary education and school enrolment consequently rose from 58% in 1992 to 75% in 2007. However over 50% of children leave school before completing their primary education and only 25% go on to attend secondary school. The increased population has put pressure on class sizes, which are often over 80 pupils. Resources such as books and learning materials are stretched and educational quality has suffered from these higher enrolments. Early grade reading tests indicate that reading levels in the first three years of primary school are very low. 72% of Standard 2 children (aged around eight) could not read a word of a story in Chichewa (mother tongue).

In this situation, the books that Inspiring Readers provides have the potential to make a huge difference to children’s educations.

A typical school scene

You were recently in Malawi to collect ‘baselines’ in all 25 schools taking part in Inspiring Readers. Why do you conduct baselines?

Before a programme begins, we conduct a baseline survey in order to record the situation in the schools and libraries taking part in the programme. This is so that we are able to get an idea of the challenges to reading and so we can see the changes that take place as a result of the programme and measure its impact.

Excited pupils at Balka Primary School

What does a baseline survey involve?

We visit each school and talk to the Head Teacher and the teachers responsible for looking after the school’s books. We also talk to a group of children from each school – a mixture of boys and girls from a range of year groups.

From the Head Teacher, we find out about the current provision of books in the school, whether or not there is a functioning library and how literacy is currently supported in school. We gather information from teachers about how their pupils learn, their confidence with reading and any challenges they face with regards to reading.

A head teacher at Balaka Primary School

From the pupils, we learn more about their current attitudes to reading and how comfortable they are with different reading-related scenarios such as reading on their own, reading with friends.

What were your findings from the Malawi Inspiring Readers  baseline?

At the schools I visited, I found that the percentage of children who can read confidently without support was low. Teachers reported that only an average of 40% of children could read confidently without help in lower primary. This lack of confidence is almost entirely due to a lack of reading materials available to them. Lessons are also extremely book poor. Teachers teach purely from their teachers’ guide, copying text onto the board and asking the children to copy it. Quite often the children do not understand what it is that they are writing, as they are unable to read.

The good news is that many of the schools involved in the Inspiring Readers programme in Malawi already have a room that they could use for a school library and teachers that have been assigned the roles of school librarians, so they’re ready for their books! There is also a country-wide policy that states that schools must dedicate at least one school period per class to the use of the library. Although schools are already prepared for a library, very few of them actually have many books (other than curriculum books) to put in it or teachers who know how to manage and run a library, so the training element of Inspiring Readers will be vital.

A young reader who will soon have new books

What will Inspiring Readers actually do to change things in the schools you’ve visited?

There are three main activities that take place as part of Inspiring Readers that we hope will have a huge impact in the schools I visited:

One: Inspiring readers will give children access to a wide variety of high quality, engaging story books. This will help improve pupils’ reading levels and help develop a culture of reading in the schools.

Two: Teachers will also receive training in how to run their library, run reading activities and make reading appealing, so this should also help more pupils read with confidence.

Three: The support which schools will receive from their local librarians will enable teachers to set up and manage their new libraries well and run effective reading activities in class, as they will be able to check in with experts whenever they need to.

What changes do you hope to see as a result of the programme?

I hope to see that pupils’ reading confidence has grown and attitudes to reading have changed. Pupils using the school library on a regular basis and borrowing books to take home will show this has taken place. I also hope to see the teachers using books in the classroom to supplement their lessons and the local librarians visiting the schools frequently to offer support to the teachers when needed.

Inspiring Readers Malawi is funded by players of Peoples Postcode Lottery. We would like to thank the players for their support! Keep an eye on our blog for further updates on our Inspiring Readers programme and click on the links below to find out more.

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