UCU represented at 11th Pan-African Literacy Conference

Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/08/ucu-represented-at-11th-pan-african-literacy-conference/


A conference keynote speaker, Dr. Wendy Saul, left, poses with Uganda Christian University staff members (left to right) Mary Owor, Deborah Mugawe and Patty Huston-Holm (a conference breakout session presenter).

By Patty Huston-Holm

More than 500 teachers, librarians, NGO leaders and policy makers from throughout the continent of Africa but also from North America convened for the 11th Pan-African Literacy for All conference August 20-22 in Kampala, Uganda. Several staff, students and alumni from Uganda Christian University (UCU) were among participants.

The overriding theme for 80 conference keynote and breakout sessions was how literacy is a bridge to equity for all countries.  Most presentations focused on the country of Uganda with sub-themes that included research, strategies and advocacy for mother tongue languages, gender balance, responsible use of technology, work originality, financial support, teaching in the context of the real world and service for handicapped students.

UCU writing and study skills tutor Mary Owor, left, participates in a conference session.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),Uganda has an adult literacy rate of 70 percent, compared to the 95 percent United States literacy rate. The Uganda male literacy rate is 79 percent compared to 62 percent for females.

The single biggest discussion centered around how early emphasis on original language positively impacts literacy levels. The late Professor William Senteza Kajubi in 1987 authored a report that in 1992 became an adopted “White Paper” for reforming Uganda education, including the teaching of mother tongue languages for some of the seven primary grades before the six secondary/high school grades. While Uganda has 65 indigenous communities with 44 languages, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has endorsed grouping those into 12 “combined” local languages.

UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) in 2016 recommended that mother tongue language be reinforced over English for at least primary grades 1 through 3. This was based, in part, on Uganda National Examinations Board results showing high primary school performance in mathematics that is taught in the mother tongue compared to low performance for reading and writing where English is used.

Despite research and government documentation that reinforces the value of early focus on local language and expert opinion that a person only learns to read and write once in a lifetime, conference participants argued that implementation is not taking place, particularly in private schools. Some conference delegates pointed out that teachers who contend they are focusing on mother tongue only teach it “15 minutes a day.” Others pointed to a lack of local language books to support Ugandan government guidelines. And still others commented that parents and some other stakeholders want English emphasis for the status of it.

NGOs in particular were reminded to provide assistance for the context of the community to be served vs. implementation of a program that works in developed countries.

English books that exist in Uganda often contain language and pictures depicting girls in subservient roles to boys.  Other education gender equity balance issues are related to support of girl menstrual challenges, early marriage and unequal sharing of home chores that lessen girl time for studies and, therefore, improved literacy. The Kajubi report went so far as to suggest that because of such issues, girls who make it to the university level should get an extra 1.5 points to assure enrollment there. The Ugandan government adopted this proposal as well as the report’s reinforcement of technical/workplace skills in education.

“Literacy doesn’t just mean reading and writing,” said Deborah Mugawe, UCU daycare administrator. “It’s so much more. It’s empowering.”

In addition to leaving the conference with information to apply to her work, she realized that “the problems I face, I’m not alone.” She is thinking about how to get more people to sit and read with a child than to simply donate books. And she is even more convinced of the need to reinforce literacy at an early age.

Mary Owor, a UCU PhD candidate and Foundation Studies tutor, was most interested in the mother tongue information because it informs her teaching of undergraduate student writing and study skills.

“I realize most of our students struggle with writing because they started with English too soon,” she said. “I know now that I need to give the students more practical work…and I know I should write my own local language books for children.”

The conference, held every two years, will be in Zambia in 2021 with an exact date and location to be determined.


To support UCU students, staff, programs and facilities, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at mtbartels@gmail.com.

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