Literacy is my life – my training, my career, my passion. Even so, I felt quite intimidated when I realized that I was going to be the literacy “expert” during our trip to Kenya. Teaching literacy in Alberta is very resource based with our extensive libraries and ever expanding literacy instructional materials. I knew that I would have to reconsider what I believe to be ‘best practices’ based on the available resources.
Luckily I discovered a coworker who had grown up in Kenya. One day Nash commented to me that students in Kenya were very good at reading because they were really good at ‘the phonics.’ This gave me a bit of a hint – similar to our English Language Learners in Alberta, perhaps the area to focus on during my time in Kenya was teaching comprehension, demonstrating higher level understanding while reading instead of simply answering questions after reading.
Now, having completed professional development sessions with not only the Male Primary and Male Secondary staff, but also with a number of teachers from surrounding schools who attended a PD session, I think this decision was exactly right. Although it is difficult sometimes to gauge the Kenyan teachers’ reactions to the topics we were discussing, the questions they asked indicated that they completely realize the impact that students’ literacy skills can have on achievement in other subjects. The resulting discussion showed a depth of understanding and willingness to do whatever was needed to support their students’ learning and development as Kenyan citizens. A few teachers indicated that their goal over the next years was to develop students’ reading comprehension using the strategies we had discussed. What a rewarding moment!
In teaching the children of today, whether in Canada or Kenya, the most important skill areas are centered around literacy and numeracy. Literacy instruction in Male Primary tends to be based on the textbooks provided for each year (grade) level. At the earliest levels, these books appear to be more aimed toward teaching English language skills rather than teaching students to read and write. We discussed strategies to supplement these texts for use in literacy instruction. Frequently the teachers lamented the lack of motivating, engaging texts for students at the correct level for reading instruction. Interestingly, the lack of library materials had also drawn the attention of our team on their initial tour of Male school; the library consisted of a couple of shelves of dusty donated materials (including books written in French and a math textbook that I recall using during my elementary school years!!)
At the farewell ceremony before our team departed Male Primary on the final day, our team was delighted to be able to announce that our team and A Better World together were going to be launching a project to develop libraries within both Male Primary and Male Secondary. This project is going to include the physical supplies and reading materials, including the vast collection of books that our team already brought over from Canada, and a suitcase full of Math manipulatives and games. We also plan to dedicate resources to obtaining Kenyan books to stock these libraries. The excitement from the teachers and students was incredible!
Many believe that literacy skills are the foundation upon which future professional and personal successes are built. This collaboration between Male schools and the teaching tour of Kenya 2013 is a solid move toward this goal for Kenyan students.