Honorable Minister of General Education Dr. Dennis Wanchinga,
Permanent Secretary for Technical Services Dr. Jobbicks Kalumba,
Permanent Secretary for Administration Dr. Jabbin Mulwanda,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols observed.
I am delighted to be here today on behalf of the U.S. government to join the Ministry of General Education in distributing of more than two million books and five thousand tablets for the benefit of the students and teachers of Zambia. These teaching and learning materials are yet another indication of the U.S. government’s continued partnership and commitment in support of Zambia’s Primary Literacy Program. These teaching and learning materials will open minds, expand horizons, and introduce millions of primary school children across Zambia to new worlds and opportunities.
The importance of reading cannot be overstated in Zambia’s social and economic development goals. In November 2018, USAID supported the Examinations Council of Zambia to conduct a literacy assessment in five provinces. This assessment found only ten percent of learners in Grade 2 were able to read at grade-level. Delays in literacy can follow a student throughout their academic career and hinder their learning in all subjects.
The Let’s Read Project launched last November in every primary and community school in Eastern, Muchinga, North Western, Southern, and Western provinces. The program directly seeks to improve literacy by ensuring that schools have quality learning resources and that teachers receive additional training and school-level coaching. In partnership with the Ministry of General Education, Let’s Read will train more than 20,000 teachers and improve the reading skills of more than 1.4 million pupils by the close of the project in 2024.
Over the next two months, the project will distribute two million books to students across the country. These materials will bring the magic of reading to public primary and community schools throughout Zambia. They are written in seven Zambian languages and were developed and selected by the Ministry of General Education to improve teachers’ instructional skills and pupils’ reading skills. Pupils from rural villages to bustling urban centers will immerse themselves in stories in their native languages. These stories will support these young learners on their way to becoming the teachers, writers, doctors, and leaders who will shape the Zambia of tomorrow.
The 2020 academic year has been affected by the ongoing COVID -19 pandemic, resulting in school closures for six months. I am happy to see that these teaching and learning materials are coming just in time to support a strong start for the 2021 academic year that begins on the 4th of January, and support more students to learn to love reading.
Students like Abigail. Abigail is a Grade 2 student from Lundazi in Eastern Province. Her teacher, Ms. Tembo, attended a literacy training supported by USAID Let’s Read last year. She inspired Abigail and instilled the love of reading. Throughout this year, with Ms. Tembo’s encouragement, Abigail stayed committed to her reading and writing. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she listened to folktales aired on community radio stations and read daily at home. Ms. Tembo is extremely proud of the progress Abigail has made and says the skills she learned in the Let’s Read training were instrumental in Abigail’s growth. Abigail hopes to become a doctor one day! The materials we are distributing today will support students and teachers like Abigail and Ms. Tembo and help them bridge the literacy gap.
Over the past year, the U.S. government helped provide standardized literacy assessments across our five target provinces in all seven languages. And for the first time, the Ministry of General Education has developed national assessments to meaningfully track and compare progress in all target provinces, districts, and zones. The results are available online on the Performance Tracking System, a public dashboard that is accessible to all education stakeholders, including parents and communities. This dashboard allows for better tracking of learner performance so that schools, districts, and provinces can better understand, assess, and address gaps in learner performance.
To support this process, USAID is providing tablets to schools in certain provinces. In an important private-sector partnership, these tablets will be powered by our three mobile network partners – Airtel, MTN and Zamtel. They have committed to provide SIM cards and discounted data bundles to schools to ensure they can access and use the online tracking system. We are extremely encouraged by the commitment of Zambia’s mobile network providers to literacy in Zambia. We look forward to tracking these results and using this data to make informed instructional decisions that will improve early language learning and overall literacy outcomes.
Before closing, I want to give a special thank you to the Ministry of General Education for its steadfast partnership in the quest to get Zambia’s children reading. I look forward to watching this program progress and meeting with primary school pupils, like Abigail, to hear about their life-changing literary journeys – and see how they harness their newfound skills and knowledge to change the world.
And now, if you would allow me to test my own reading skills by saying “Happy reading!” in all seven languages.
– Chitonga: Mukukkomanine kubala
– Cinyanja: Werengani mosangalala/mokondwa
– Icibemba: Ipakisheni ukebelenga
– Kikaonde: Iyowayi kutanga
– Lunda: Wutañi chachiwahi
– Luvale: Livwisenu kutanga mwane
– Silozi: Hamuikole kubala