The Education Sector in The Gambia caters to thousands of students every year in its constant efforts to shape the minds of the future leaders. Reading and writing play pivotal roles in this process and according to the World Bank report, “The Gambia Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) Results from 1,200 Gambian Primary Students Learning to Read in English”, the following could be noted:
“In most major international assessments (e.g., Programme for International Student Assessment–Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [PISAOECD], and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study–International Evaluation of Educational Achievement [PIRLS-IEA]) children’s reading skills are not assessed before fourth grade. For students who are poor readers, it is often too late to carry out efficient and effective remedial instruction. Indeed, to be efficient, remedial instruction should be conducted as early as possible. In addition, most major assessments are only composed of reading comprehension tasks, and do not take into account the level of word reading fluency (including accuracy and speed) and listening comprehension. However, research suggests that reading comprehension is associated with capacity in these complementary tasks. To complement existing international assessments, a new protocol, Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) 1 has been developed to assess the main skills that are known to predict reading success within the early grades of primary school (First to Third Grade). During a workshop held in Dakar, Senegal, the EGRA protocol was adapted to the local context in English (and in French) and then pretested in several schools in Gambia (and in Senegal). As a result of the adaptation and pretesting process, the original EGRA testing instrument was changed significantly. The protocol used in Gambia (and in Senegal) include two tasks assessing text comprehension (in spoken and written language), three tasks assessing accuracy and speed in the reading of high frequency words (isolated-words and word-in-context reading) and invented words (pseudo words), two spelling tasks, two phonemic awareness tasks, and a task assessing letter knowledge. EGRA also includes a student survey with questions about the student’s cultural and linguistic environment (including home language and parents’ literacy status) and socio economic status (SES). A large-scale reading assessment was conducted in Gambia with 1,200 first, second, and third graders (randomly selected from 40 schools) who were learning to read in English. Three analyses were carried out. The first involved a comparison within the group, in which the effect of control variables including gender, home language, and SES was examined in relation to the children’s results. In the second analysis, the pattern of correlations between the different tasks (and between these tasks and some control variables) was examined. Finally, regression analyses were carried out in order to determine the predictors of isolated-word and word-in-context reading, and reading comprehension. The last two analyses indicated that the correlations between SES and the experimental tasks were not significant, and SES was not found to explain variance in word reading. This was also the case for phonemic awareness and the knowledge of letter names, although the correlations between these tests and reading tests were high. The correlations between pseudo word and word reading were very high. Pseudo word reading was the only skill that systematically explained variance in word reading. Finally, the correlations between listening and reading comprehension were high, and listening comprehension was the only skill that explained variance in reading comprehension.”
These findings have led many academics and organisations to seek and implement solutions to that effect. Book Aid International is one of those and they noted the following:
“Children living in some of The Gambia’s poorest rural communities have few opportunities to discover the joy of reading: Most families cannot afford books to have at home and schools often only have curriculum textbooks. In addition, little or no access to electricity can make reading and studying in the evening impossible…Thanks to the inspiring books you have helped to send, pupils at Boraba Lower Basic School and Demfai Basic Cycle School have plenty of books to read and enjoy! They are even able to indulge their new-found of love reading after school thanks to solar lamps from our partner Switched On-Gambia. We caught up with head teachers from both schools to find out more…Musa Baldeh, Principal, Demfai Basic Cycle School. Books from Book Aid International have made our reading lessons easier. Pupils used to find these lessons boring but the variety of books from Book Aid International means that they are now enjoying these lessons. These books came at the time we needed them most! Teachers are using the books in class during reading lessons and students are also taking them home to read. A lot of the curriculum books are not available at our school so the books from Book Aid International are also being used by teachers as supplementary materials. So these books are very important in supporting teaching and learning at this institution. Because books are now being used more in class and pupils are also able to borrow books to read at home, the language skills of our pupils are improving. The solar lamps mean pupils can read at home in the evenings. In my community there is little understanding of the importance of formal education which means there is poor support from parents of their children’s academic careers. But these books are motivating students to come to school daily and stay in school…Kebba Ceesay, Head Teacher at Boraba Lower Basic School. The books are very good, they are very important. They are very current and in-line with the curriculum. We use the books with our pupils during library periods. Teachers also use some of the books for further explanation during lessons. These books are encouraging our pupils to read. Sometimes pupils come to the library to learn new words using the dictionaries. If teachers are not in class, pupils come and borrow books to read in class to keep themselves busy. Almost every pupil rents a solar lantern so they can read books at home as well and this is impacting on their academic performance. Now with the help of the books, we are engaging pupils more in reading and their reading is improving. We’re also seeing improvements in their language. The books are also increasing the number of pupils that come to school. Without these books, learning would be difficult for the children as it was before. We hope to see pupils leaving this school with a good educational background.”
Most students in our nation follow a curriculum that is diverse in nature. They undergo six years of Primary schooling from grades 1 to 6, three years of Junior secondary schooling from grades 7 to 9, three years of Senior secondary schooling from: grades 10 to 12 and four years of University education.
However, reading means understanding and grasping the various concepts and theories involved in the process to be in a position to apply the knowledge in the professional field later on. Most students are present on social media platforms and communicate daily with friends and families around the globe. Yet, how many think about registering on the various platforms that offer free electronic books?
Reading and writing also go in pairs. Perhaps encouraging the students to express their ideas and views in the form of articles and later on books could promote the various talented authors to be discovered and shaped appropriately.
The reading advocacy movements can be contacted by the various management teams present in our schools to engage Gambians in the many ways possible. From creating Book Clubs to starting Pen Pal Programs, the sky’s the limit. After all, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste”.