For Professor of Education Charlie Temple, “the purpose of literacy is for people to be able to think and communicate and consider multiple points-of-view, to sniff out prejudice and bias, to be able to talk about complex ideas.”
But among groups supporting global literacy, the abiding emphasis on developing low-level skills like phonics is misplaced, Temple says, “wasting money and putting poor countries deeper in the hole. What’s being demonstrated is that so many approaches are aimed too low to make much difference in people’s quality of life.”
In November, Temple and Firas Elfarr, the monitoring and evaluation coordinator at the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE), published a research brief detailing the success of CODE’s literacy interventions in Tanzania.
CODE is Canada’s leading international development agency focused uniquely on advancing literacy and education in some of the world’s regions in greatest need.
Reading CODE — the organization’s comprehensive readership initiative that works with local partners in Africa — represents “a different approach to get students reading and thinking and questioning and solving problems, using meaningful books that bring up moral and social justice issues for debate, to sharpen students’ critical thinking,” Temple says.
Temple and Elfarr’s research, “READING CODE: Assessing a Comprehensive Readership Initiative in Tanzania,” examines the efficacy of the program’s focus on teacher training, access to interesting and culturally relevant books, and library support for primary schools.
They found that after a four-year project in schools in remote central Tanzania, “with 350 teachers promoting contextualized word study, fluency, comprehension and writing — supported by locally written and engaging trade books — children in project schools showed substantially superior performance on every measure compared to a demographically-matched comparison group of children.”
“What we’ve been trying to do is to make sure kids are fluent readers who can think,” Temple says.
To address that goal, students must first be reading books they want to read. Next, Temple continues, “teachers in dramatically under-resourced schools don’t always know what to do with these books, so we focused on promoting teacher training, offered by mid-career volunteers who go over and give workshops.”
CODE’s partner in Tanzania is the Children’s Book Project (CBP), which was founded 25 years ago and has since published 350 titles for children and youth, largely in Kiswahili, in millions of copies.
These steps underscore the goal of Reading-CODE, which goes beyond teaching reading skills in that it seeks to promote thoughtful, life-long readers, though the program does effectively develop those basic reading skills, as Temple and Elfarr’s assessment notes, building fluency, comprehension and critical thinking.
“What’s exciting is that we’re ambitious,” Temple says. “We’re happy with what we’ve done and we’re hoping we can demonstrate a successful way to make a difference in education levels and productivity.”
Reading-CODE programs are also active in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Mozambique, Liberia and Sierra Leone, promoting core approaches to reading and writing with variations from country to country, depending on local priorities and traditions, as the program emphasizes culturally relevant and engaging books and pedagogy.
Through his work with CODE, Temple also participates in assessment and teacher and writer training, and has helped produce indigenous children’s literature in Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. In October, he completed a review and assessment project in Ghana, where he visited local schools and drafted a report that will be used to show the Canadian government what has been accomplished with their funds.
Temple is the co-founder and director of the Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Project (RWCT) in association with the Open Society Institute and International Literacy Association. RWCT has reached more than 200,000 teachers in 40 countries on five continents. He received his B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina, and his M.Ed. in curriculum studies and his Ph.D. in reading education from the University of Virginia. Having also taught at the University of Houston-Victoria, he joined the HWS faculty in 1982.
The top photo features a student named Alex in the Mlali B Primary School in Mlali, Kongwa District, Tanzania, as he enjoys one of many the books produced through the efforts of Reading-CODE and the Children’s Book Project. In the second photo, Professor of Education Charlie Temple is teaching a class at HWS, and the chart summarizes the results of their work.