Evidence-based systems and rigorous teacher training have shown measurable success in increasing reading performance for Zambia’s children.
When 7-year-old Haward Kachula finished Grade 1 in 2012, he was one of the first students to benefit from Zambia’s national reading initiative. As visiting administrators looked on, Haward carefully wrote his name on the board and showed off his reading skills. His school, in Mwinilunga District of North-Western Province, embraced a new approach to reading established by the Zambian government and supported by USAID’s Strengthening Educational Performance – Up (STEP-Up Zambia) project.
Although the Zambian government’s policy is to provide access to basic education for all children, students have shown dismal progress in mastering the basic skills. Minister of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Childhood Education John Phiri noted that a baseline study in 2012 revealed that 89 percent of Grade 2 learners and 80 percent of Grade 3 learners could not read.
In May 2012, Cecilia Sakala, director of standards and curriculum in the Zambia Ministry of Education, invited 59 officers from national, provincial, and district education offices to develop a common vision for learner performance. The planning retreat was the first time decision-makers at different levels came together to collaboratively analyze the status of reading and set targets for improvement.
In partnership with the STEP-Up team, Mrs. Sakala led participants in analyzing reading performance and discussing issues affecting teaching and learning. She tasked each region with forecasting the number of new readers it could produce and outlining a strategy for achieving its goal. The result was a national target: Zambia will create 1 million new readers by 2015.