A paper presented at the 11th Pan African Literacy Conference- Serena Hotel, Uganda AUGUST 20- 22, 2019


Mother tongue: This paper takes the definition of mother tongue as familiar language, language used at home, language of the immediate community which is best known to the child. Parental engagement: For the purposes of this paper, parental engagement has been taken to mean raising parents awareness of the benefits of engaging in their children’s education and providing them with the skills to do so through partnerships between families, schools and communities. Multilingualism: The use of many languages in a society or a group. Official language: Legally placed as the language for formal communication. Bilingual education: Where first language and second language are used as media of instruction Literacy: The ability to read with understanding and write. ABBREVIATIONS NAPE: National Assessment of Progress in Education UNEB: Uganda National Examinations Board ADEA: Association for the Development of education in Africa UNICEF: The United Nations Children’s Fund USAID: United States Agency for International Development 2 ABSTRACT Parents and caregivers are crucial to a child’s language and literacy development (UNICEF, 2015), yet very little or no parental/caregiver engagement is taking place in the home and literacy development is left to the teachers and formal instruction in schools. The lack of productive parent/ caregiver engagement in both the home and school setting (UNICEF, 2015), results in late start of literacy processes and low outcomes. Mother tongue is central to achieving maximal learning success (ADEA,2006). But linking mother tongue acquisition in home environment to school learning and literacy development is still a challenge. The thematic curriculum started in 1997 in Uganda, where children are supposed to be instructed in their mother tongue from Primary one to Primary three is also aimed at bridging this gap but literacy acquisition is still low and parental/ caregiver engagement is still minimal. There is need to empower parents and overcome a general lack of parental enthusiasm and willingness to participate in children’s literacy acquisition processes. Language barrier is cited as one of the reasons causing the widening gap between home learning and school learning. The paper examines the role of parents/ caregivers in children’s language and literacy acquisition, how mother tongue can be used to boost parental engagement and literacy acquisition and bridge the gap between home and school learning. The paper also examines how to enhance parental engagement and support parents and caregivers to actively engage in their children’s literacy processes. 3 INTRODUCTION Whereas researchers and educationists agree that a child to start reading in a language he / she understands well is key to literacy achievements (Robinah Kyeyune,2015), realising the full benefits of this approach to literacy still eludes literacy practitioners. Whereas it is true that positive improvements have been achieved in Uganda, (UNEB NAPE Midline report, 2017) the children are yet to achieve the full potential that would accrue from well implemented mother tongue instruction policy and its role in supporting other forms of literacy. The problem stems from; poor usage of the bilingual education system and lack of necessary home/parental/caregiver support. BILINGUAL EDUCATION: WHAT IS AND WHAT SHOULD BE In Uganda as in many African countries, bilingual education is construed to mean usage of mother tongue for a little while and then switching to the official language for the greater time. The thematic curriculum started in 1997 in Uganda, where children are supposed to be instructed in their mother tongue from Primary one to Primary three is example of this early exit/ transitional/ subtractive model aimed at weaning pupils off mother tongue as early as possible in favour of the official (foreign) language. This premature introduction of a foreign language results into children leaving mother tongue at the starting level, (primary three) before they have fully gained the necessary language skills that can enable them easily learn other languages. “Mother tongue done right can help children learn other languages but because the early exit model leaves the children at the starting level, it hasn’t helped as much as it should (ADEA, 2006). Educationists recommend additive language models which use both mother tongue and the official/ foreign language as languages of instruction throughout the primary education system, with mother tongue being used as language of instruction up to primary four or five and there after being used at least 30- 50 percent. As this model targets a high level of proficiency in both mother tongue and the official/ foreign language, it means that the child can then easily use proficiency obtained in mother tongue to support his learning of the foreign language and many other languages that he she takes on. But as the situation stands today in Uganda, teachers in upper primary informally resort to mother tongue when their pupils fail to grasp what they are teaching (M Nankinga, F. Kisirikko et al, 2016). This research showed that although the language of instruction in upper primary is officially English, teachers tend to resort to mother tongue to explain Mathematics and Science subject matter when pupils fail to grasp what is being taught in English. The tables below relate number of languages spoken by children to number of languages of instruction used in the classroom in both rural and urban selected schools. 4 A comparison of number of L1 languages spoken by pupils with number of languages of instruction used in class in selected rural schools A comparison of number of L1 languages spoken by pupils with number of languages of instruction used in class in selected urban schools (Source: M. Nankinga, F. Kisirikko et al) Because this mother tongue support to the official language of instruction (English) at higher primary is done informally it is not organised and well planned and not all teachers do this and as a result the benefits that would accrue from such a dual system of language instruction are not fully realised. This informal use of a dual medium of instruction should be explored and if found useful, formalised because of its said benefits of; 5 (i) Making the pupils understand better and therefore be able to put to use information learnt and internalised. (ii) Leading to high levels of proficiency in both the mother tongue and the foreign language. If African countries are to improve education and produce educated people who can use their education for their betterment and development of their countries, languages of instruction should be reviewed and proper language policies, supporting education and development put in place. Whereas language is not everything in education, without it, everything is nothing in education (E. Wolff).


Parents’ engagement in literacy processes is key to a child’s literacy acquisition. Literacy acquisition processes should start at home before a child goes to school and for this to take place, there must be strong parent/ caregiver involvement and support. Parent involvement is a vital element in literacy acquisition and education and can be achieved through home based involvement which may include children reading to parents, parents reading to children, telling and writing stories among others (Hornby and Lafaele, 2011). Although this is the case, literacy practitioners are still grappling with how to get more parents to be involved in the literacy processes of their children. In Uganda, Failure to link home literacy learning to school education systems has greatly affected literacy acquisition. Because home learning has no clear linkage to school academic learning many parents are left feeling irrelevant to their children’s education processes, apart from paying school fees and buying school requirements. They feel that the social cultural and linguistic knowledge they have is either lacking or irrelevant to the formal education processes. Teachers should find ways of using the parents/ caregivers social cultural environmental and linguistic knowledge in the classroom to promote literacy. In such an environment, mother tongue is key and used properly can support the acquisition of other forms of literacy as demonstrated in the literacy samosa diagram below. 6 Literacy practitioners promoting parental engagement should also ensure linkage of home learning to the school processes. Schools and teachers should support parental engagement by including in the school system, two- way activities that link home literacy activities to school literacy activities. In their efforts to promote parental engagement practitioners usually have the right materials to give the necessary support, however efforts usually do not achieve the desired output and they continue to struggle to fully empower parents and overcome the general lack of parental enthusiasm and willingness to participate in children’s literacy acquisition. In literate- semi illiterate- illiterate communities it is critical that practitioners determine which tool will work for which group. A case study is USAID/ Uganda Literacy Achievement and retention Activity: Social and Behavior Change Communication to Increase Parental Engagement in Children’s Reading Practice Endline Report. This was an assessment carried out in August 2017, in Ssekanyonyi- Mityana district, of an eightweek pilot campaign to improve parents’ engagement in their children’s reading practice at home. The campaign with slogan “Tusomere Wamu” a Luganda statement meaning “let us read together”, targeted 2,016 men and women in 1,008 households and the endline survey interviewed 936 parents while 906 were interviewed at baseline. An endline report of this campaign shows that the campaign led to increase of number of parents reading to their children from 9% to 30%. But the number of teachers who felt that parents should read to their children fell from 12.2 to 10.6% This is a disconnect if parents are being encouraged to 7 read to their children but more teachers feel that they shouldn’t. This may lead to a disconnect between home and school literacy acquisition processes. The report also shows that Parents helping their children with school work through listening to the child reading aloud fell from 20.7 to 19.1% (Table 25). According to this report, by the end of the study, parents feeling unable to help their children learn to read because they could not read had risen from 67.4 to 84%. (USAID/Uganda Literacy Achievement and Retention Endline Report, March 2018) This could imply that whereas the campaign encouraged the parents to read to their children which was greatly embraced by literate parents (thus the rise in numbers of the parents reading to their children), the same campaign could have discouraged the parents who are illiterate from feeling that they can help their children to learn to read (because they could not read to them). This corresponds to the fall in the number of children reading aloud to their parents and the rise in number of parents who feel they are unable to help their children read. Whereas the campaign was very beneficial because it led to the rise of number of parents reading to their children from 9% to 30%, the numbers who felt they could not help their children to read because they could not read, rising from 67.4 to 84% cannot be ignored. The endline report clearly shows that what works for one parent may not work for the other and in this respect what worked for the literate parents may not have worked for the illiterate parents, thus the above results. In literate- semi illiterate- illiterate communities it is critical that practitioners determine which tool will work for which group. For effective literacy interventions, literacy partners need to study the communities they are targeting more thoroughly before they roll out with the interventions. It is to this effect that the Project Literacy Parent Engagement Working Group collectively developed a Parent Engagement Needs Assessment tool. PARENT ENGAGEMENT NEEDS ASSESSMENT TOOL _A%20Guide%20for%20Literacy%20Practitioners.pdf

The Parent Engagement Needs Assessment Tool was designed for Literacy practitioners to guide them in positive parent/ care giver engagement. The Parent Engagement Working Group is one of the five working groups within the Project Literacy Community of Practice, a collaborative learning network established by Pearson’s Project Literacy and Results for Development (R4D) in 2018. The Community of Practice virtually convenes over 100 literacy practitioners from 20 countries, including organisations such as; Literacy4 All, We Love Reading, Indus Action, Worldreader, The Reach Trust, The Parent- Child Home Program, Beyond the Classroom, Queen Rania Foundation, Iris Speaks, Child dream 8 Foundation, Luganda/Lusoga/Lugwere Vehicular Cross-border language Commission, Tushinde Children’s Trust and Family support and Rescue Organisation. Members of the Project Literacy Parent Engagement Working Group identify with Baker, 2015 who highlights the need for literacy practitioners to create and deliver programs that are engaging and relevant to the needs of parents. Members believe that progress towards increasing parent engagement at home and in school requires local ownership and customized strategies for different contexts. So they came up with a tool that emphasizes a participatory approach; work with parents to identify problems and co-create solutions.

HOW THE TOOL HELPS LITERACY PRACTITIONERS TO BETTER THEIR RESULTS Greater parent engagement in education is needed to tackle the global literacy challenge. The tool supports literacy practitioners by providing easy to use guidance on determining the realities, beliefs, needs and resources of the community you are engaging, building local ownership and customized strategies in the process. The tool comes up with guiding principles on how to engage and empower parents and caregivers. It gives guides to assessing home environment, caregiver experience, includes guiding questions to help assess these and offers practical advice on how to gather information. 9 GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE TOOL The Guiding principles of the tool include keeping the parent/caregiver at the centre of the literacy process, empowering parents to support the literacy development processes of their children irrespective of whether the parents are illiterate or not, taking a human centred approach, allowing the communities to own programs and determine how they are run. Other principles are valuing and respecting the communities involved and measuring progress in a way that is meaningful to parents and caregivers.

WHO THE TOOL IS FOR AND HOW TO USE IT The tool will be of help to literacy practitioners who work in low or illiterate communities, literacy advocates, designers and implementers of parent engagement programs and evaluators of these programs. The guide contains two main sections. The introduction outlines a set of guiding principles The framework section provides a series guiding questions to help you assess the broader literacy context, household home environment and caregiver experience. Suggestions on data collection methods and key reflections from literacy practitioners are included to guide the user in conducting assessment. For more information about the tool, please sign up to join the webinar. I recommend this tool to literacy practitioners as it is intended to increase parental engagement, identify and control biases and assumptions practitioners usually have before they start a program which may impact on the success of their programs.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS (i) Africa governments should review their language policies so as to come up with the right education and development policies for the betterment of their countries. To do this government have to connect language to development and then education. Usually the connection between development and language use is ignored and the connection between language and education is hardly understood outside expert circles (ADEA, 2006) and this affects education and hinders development. In Africa there are between 1,200- 2000 African languages and Uganda with 65 tribes, is estimated to have 40-65 languages. However, this multilingualism asset is often distorted and taken to be a threat to national unity- missing the opportunity to build a quality education and build the potential of the whole population instead of a tiny minority (ADEA, 2006). Today we are talking of equity in education, building literacy right from home, we have to recognize and 10 appreciate the role of mother tongue in initiating and building children’s literacy at an early age and right from home. We should seize the opportunity of mother tongue and use it to start on children’s literacy journey right from home. Education and development are interconnected and we cannot talk of equity either in education or in development when people are discriminated against and denied development information because it is in languages that they do not understand well. When we make wrong education decisions, we make wrong development decisions and when we make wrong development decisions, we make wrong education decisions. The right language policies will drive both education and development. We should build an all-inclusive education; only then will we build an all-inclusive development. To achieve this, mother tongue is crucial. Research has found that language exclusion leads to social and economic marginalisation (Joseph LO Bianco- 2017) (ii) The thematic curriculum should be reviewed and an additive approach to mother tongue as language of instruction be taken up to so as to give literacy and parents participation chance to drive and improve literacy achievement. (iii) Teachers should support parents’ participation through strengthening and linking classroom to home learning in a two-way phase; from school to home and from home to school. In this way home learning will support school and school will support parents’ engagement and home learning. Currently it is a one-way phase, children take what they have learnt from school to home through classroom homework but what has been learnt at home hardly ever finds its way to the classroom. There is need to bridge the gap between what is learnt at home ant what is learnt at school. In so doing, the parents will realise and appreciate their role and relevance to a child’s literacy attainment processes.


Mother tongue and parents’ participation in literacy processes are crucial and play an integral role in a child’s literacy acquisition. Mother tongue literacy, done correctly, can lay foundation boost all forms of literacy. It empowers parents to participate in their children’s literacy processes as it eliminates the language barrier which is usually a limitation to their participation. What is needed is to give mother tongue time to take root and boost literacy. Parents need the right interventions so as to boost their participation and for this to happen practitioners need to determine the right interventions to cater for different parents, different societies and communities, work with parents to identify problems and come up with customized strategies and solutions for different contexts.

11 REFERENCES - USAID/Uganda Literacy Achievement and Retention End Line Report, March 2018: Social and Behavior Change: Communication to Increase Parental Engagement in Children’s Reading Practice Endline Report - Joseph Lo Bianco, 2017: Resolving ethnolinguistic conflicts in multi ethnic societies - UNEB NAPE midline report 2017: The Achievement of Learners in Early Grade Reading in Selected Districts of Uganda Midline Report 2017 - E Wolff, 2016: Language and Development in Africa - M Nankinga, F. Kisirikko et al, 2016: Effects of Multilingualism on the teaching and learning of science and mathematics at upper primary in Uganda - UNICEF, 2015: Family and Parenting Support- Policy and Provision in a GlobalContext - Robinah Kyeyune, 2015: Mother tongue as a Facilitator of Learning- What lessons should governments and their people learn? - Hornby and Lafaele, 2011: Barriers to parental involvement in education: An explanatory model, Educational Review - ADEA, 2006: Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa- the Language Factor