Author: Letshabo, K.
In May 2001, the Ministry of Education and Sports and its partners, UNICEF, ITEK, and NCDC embarked commenced activities for a pilot project for teaching Local Languages, using a methodology called Breakthrough to Literacy (BTL). BTL was originally developed to teach functional literacy skills to learners in their first language. It is an approach that brings into the classroom language that children are already experiencing in the home, works with children to recognize familiar spoken words when translated into a written code, and to generate written language. The learning environment in a BTL classroom is organized into social and ability groups which are required to perform tasks interactively in a relaxed and highly stimulating atmosphere.
BTL Uganda aims to develop literacy functional skills in young learners, such that 85% of girls and 85% of boys are able to read and write in a Local Language by end of P3. It also promotes other important features of the Uganda education landscape - that of establishing child-friendly learning environments in all lower primary schools and learning centers; and ensuring that learners demonstrate proficiency in at least 3 selected life skills by end of P3. These and other generic features of the BTL approach were piloted in 100 P1 classes representing regular primary schools and COPE centers. Three local languages of Alur, Dhophadhola, and Luganda were selected for the pilot, which was conducted in four districts of Nebbi, Tororo, Kamuli, Masaka, and at the Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo (ITEK) demonstration school in Kampala
The evaluation was intended to provide feedback to stakeholders (the learners, teachers, program developers and administrators, funding agencies, etc.) on learning achievements at lower primary level. Indicators on BTL effectiveness in other countries include increase in enrolment and attendance due to the fact that learners enjoy school more, decreased dropout rates, increase in reading proficiency, and an increase in the number of learners that master grade-level reading and writing skills. Some of these indicators were estimated in the evaluation. The evaluation also observed the instructional environment in BTL to determine whether it is conducive for learning basic literacy under BTL conditions.
A three-pronged methodology was proposed for the evaluation. First, a context study of Uganda and the BTL programs was conducted. Secondly, elite interviews and focus group interviews of the main actors in program development, implementation, and monitoring were conducted. The third component of the evaluation was basic literacy assessment of several cohorts of learners, both BTL and non-BTL learners, observations of BTL and non-BTL classrooms, as well as self-administered surveys for different kinds of people who work with BTL, and stakeholders.
In most cases once the school was selected, all BTL classes in that school were tested. In the case of non-BTL schools, only one class per grade (P2, P3, and P4) in each school was tested. The estimated population of BTL learners in the Uganda pilot was 10,000. The target sample size was 10 - 15 percent of the population. Sample comprised of 20 schools across the four districts that are piloting the BTL approach. There were 10 regular BTL schools, 5 COPE schools that were also using the BTL methodology, and a sample of 5 non-BTL schools, that were used as a control group. A total of 1,060 students were tested. Even though 1,060 learners were tested, only 640 were included in the quantitative analysis due to errors in coding. The comparative sample from non-BTL schools was about one-fourth of the BTL sample.
Findings and Conclusions:
Achievement on Reading Literacy:
The mean of all BTL learners, including those who did not attain the required reading proficiency, is 50.7 percent compared to 26.0 percent for the non-BTL group. Compared to their grade cohort, the BTL learners have outperformed the non-BTL P2s by more that 40 percentage points (50.7% BTL, compared to 10.2% non-BTL). The non-BTL learners are most deficient in reading comprehension, the most important skill for future learning, unfortunately. The BTL methodology was found to work equally well with boys and girls (mean of 50.9 and 50.6, respectively).
According to their teachers, about 90 percent of BTL learners have “broken through” (Stage 2 and 3 learners). This means that they are able to read, with understanding, simple text at the P1 grade level in their local language. More than half of that number (55.4 percent) have reached the Stage 3 reading ability level, which means that they have attained the ability to compose stories. The literacy test results indicate that the mean for the Stage 3 learners is 62.3 percent, with more than 50 percent of the learners scoring 73.6 percent or better (the median score). BTL Stage 3 learners performed better than P3 and P4 in non-BTL schools (means of 19.6 percent and 39.2 percent, respectively). Stage 3 learners are being compared with these cohorts because they are the group that has had the most success with BTL learning objectives.
While it may be clear at this point that BTL learners are achieving better than non-BTL learners, it must be borne in mind that an important outcome of the Uganda BTL program is to have 85% of the learners communicating effectively by reading and writing in their local language by the time they reach P3. This evaluation shows that only 55.4 percent of the BTL learners who were classified by stage had reached the Stage 3 level towards the end of P2. A new challenge to the BTL schools will be to sustain the reading levels, and exceed them such that an additional 44.6 percent can communication effectively in a year’s time.
Teaching and Learning Environment:
BTL classrooms have been shown to be child-friendly as a result of observing the learning environment is inclusive of children of diverse backgrounds; enrolments and participation in BTL schools surpasses that of non-BTL schools; participation of boys and girls has been active, equitable, and was tailored to meet specified needs. There also has been a heightened interest and participation of parents in children’s learning activities and in their involvement in school activities. More importantly, parents have come to view the school as a place that reinforces children cultural heritage.
The BTL classroom climate is generally reported to have improved in a number of ways. For instance, learner-centered and cooperative teaching and learning approaches are being used extensively, where learners take more responsibility for their work and regulate their time and attention between the tasks they have to perform. Children have developed an ability to handle a variety of activities that have to go on at the same time without getting distracted, e.g. drawing objects, counting them, and writing down their number in a sentence. Also, there is evidence of mutual respect by teachers for the ability of the learners and their efforts, with teachers actively promotion leadership skills, as well as the life skills of communication, and critical thinking. On the whole, children seem to enjoy learning. They also take delight in having pictures, teaching aids and some of their creative writing displayed in the classroom.
The successes above notwithstanding, most schools are still lacking in the basics of providing a healthy environment and in providing a safe environment. For instance, toilet facilities are inadequate; First Aid Kits are not available in most schools, or not kept in a visible place in cases where schools have them; most schools are not fenced-in. Also, the school may need to invest some time in devising deliberate strategies to maximize participation of parents in the actual classrooms activities, so that they may channel efforts to assist learning in a systematic manner.
In view of the success that BTL has had with the pilot Local Languages, it is recommended that plans be made to adapt the methodology for its maximum effect in the Ugandan context. The adaptation should, among others, specify the outcomes at each stage clearly, develop BTL kits using locally available materials, increase contact time by teaching foundation level subjects with this approach, and, enhance the cultural elements in the methodology. It is envisaged that this strategy will help cut down on cost of developing BTL materials, thereby enhancing its sustainability. In the meantime, as many schools as can be accommodated under the present arrangement should be taken on board.
In order to ensure that BTL activities receive adequate attention, a BTL focal point, with the responsibility to plan for expansion of BTL, up to nation-wide implementation, as well as devise monitoring and evaluation strategies, is required at the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The report also recommends that the BTL undertake a study tour to Zambia where full scale implementation of BTL commenced in 2002. The team can draw lessons on the Zambian experience of implementing their language policy, as well as adapting the BTL approach into NBTL. In order to ensure that BTL activities receive adequate attention, a BTL focal point, with the responsibility to plan for expansion of BTL, up to nation-wide implementation, as well as devise monitoring and evaluation strategies, is required at the Ministry of Education and Sports.
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Education - Quality Teaching and Learning
Ministry of Education