When I feel I am smashing my head up against a brick wall.

Let me set the scene: I have been teaching voluntarily for almost one and a half years at a local government primary school. These classes have an average of 100 kids per class, but this year enrollment in infant classes has spiked and P1 (reception/kindergarten) has 145, the cap was suppose to be 110 but let’s just say there was a little administration error… (clarification, this is one class, one room).

The majority of infant exams and all primary exams are in English, however children’s reading levels are extremely low. Extremely low is an understatement, many cannot even read the exam question, let alone attempt an answer. I have found this personally quite shocking and challenging, especially when a sponsored child is attending school but can’t read. It’s a reflection of the local government education system.

The main (or only) way of teaching here is ‘chalk and talk’, parrot-rote learning. It’s pretty hard to learn to read English that way, especially when it’s your second language.

It is not all doom and gloom, however, and a third of the way through last year I started to tackle this issue at the grassroots team-teaching phonics with some infant class teachers. The P1 class teacher welcomed this new knowledge and skill with open arms and low and behold at the end of the year the kids can read! What? P1? I have taught two workshops to teachers on how to teach phonics (one workshop not all teachers attended because they didn’t get paid a ‘sitting fee’, cue: scream). I have discussed this matter in great detail with school leadership and urged teachers to try and adopt this different approach to teaching reading. They all agree it is a great way and request me to teach their classes, but are unwilling to teach it themselves.

Problem: Phonics is not in the Ugandan syllabus. Their suggested solution: Well, there is none because we have to teach the syllabus. Just pull up and work harder, even when the syllabus does not teach children to read.

That's my head against the wall...

That’s my head against the wall…

Classes have been extended, struggling parents have been paying extra money for more of the same and still: children’s reading does not improve.

It just seems to be this weird vicious cycle. Yesterday during a staff meeting there were comments about poor reading and writing for P4 and P5 children and teachers were asking why this could be the case: cue: scream! Their possible solution: Extend the extra lessons: keep children until 6pm to teach the syllabus, more of the same! (background: they already start their extra morning programme at 7.30am). Cue: Bang, bang (that’s my head against the wall).

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