The Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education (LGIHE) is doing incredible work in the field of literacy. They are currently assisting Luigi Giussani teachers and outside teachers (who come for trainings and diplomas) in teaching literacy. They are also working in the area of research to understand how to better teach reading and writing. The question is enormous, but the heart of the work is in changing the culture surrounding what it means to be educated. For literacy specifically, this means communicating that the value of reading is more than just decoding—it can change one’s perception of life.
Though incomplete, my understanding of literacy in Uganda has somehow framed my time here and maybe it’s just the teacher in me, but the importance of being able to read is frequently on my mind. There are a few main reasons teaching reading is such a complicated task in Kampala.
Many literacy researchers and teachers have found that even if reading and writing in English is the end goal, it is better to teach these skills in a child’s first language. Within the city of Kampala residents are from a few different tribes. With each heritage comes a language and this incredible diversity makes it impossible to teach in anyone’s first language. In fact, for many of the Luigi Giussani teachers, Luganda is their first language, while many students speak Acholi. So this is the first complication.
Another complication is that many students have not mastered their first language. That concept blew my mind when I first came here. Why this is the case is still not entirely clear to me, but it seems that with the level of economic poverty children are coming from, spoken language. This is not to say children do not speak, but for many it is an informal communication that may not be a full comprehension of any one language.
The last complication I have seen is that the way schools traditionally teach literacy in Uganda is through repetition and memorization. In other words, many students are able to decode sentences (i.e.- read the sounds), because they have memorized the letters and sounds. Decoding is critical for literacy, but if the meaning of a sentence is not grasped it is almost useless. Reading comprehension needs to be more explicitly taught. It is only with reading comprehension that students can practice critical thinking skills.
For good reason, LGIHE emphasizes the need to teach critical thinking skills. Without the ability to think deeply for oneself, it is very difficult to apply what you have learned to life and to think creatively about problem solving. These are life skills not confined to the classroom. In Kampala, literacy and critical thinking can not be taken for granted, and so, LGIHE and the Luigi Giussani schools are working to take on the task of teaching literacy to our students, according to a more complete understanding of education.
A recent grad from Boston College, I will be spending the next two months in Uganda seeing my studies of education, psychology and human development in action. I am lucky enough to be volunteering with and learning from the community of educators at the Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education (LGIHE). My days will consist of everything from classroom observation to educational research to exploring the culture of Uganda (and Kenya for a brief visit!). I would love for you to follow along for what I am sure will be a crazy beautiful summer!