Children in schools across Tanzania are much better at reading thanks to special ‘box library’ programmes, fostering a love of books at a cost of just £1.88 per child.
The power of reading
Reading isn’t just a vital skill, and one of life’s greatest pleasures. It makes us smarter. It’s a fact that children who read do better at school. In countries like Tanzania, modern education demands a high level of literacy, despite taking place in communities that do not have a traditional culture of reading.
Illiterate parents are less likely to prioritise reading for their children and resources in schools are often scarce.
Teachers are lucky if they have sufficient textbooks to prepare lessons, never mind having enough reading material for their students.
From 2011-2015, VSO partnered with Book Aid International to address the problem with a combination of teacher training, and books supplied to their schools. Now we have the statistics to show it’s made a real difference: students made improvements in reading of up to 25%.
“When they read, they learn to answer comprehension questions. They get more vocabulary, and they enjoy looking at the pictures in the books. They can now answer the reading comprehension questions [in school exams]. And this helps them on the national exam.”
Diocles Bashulula, library and reading resource teacher, Ijumbi Primary School
We selected 49 rural schools in northwest Tanzania that already struggled with resources. Each school was given a ‘box library’ – a purpose-built wooden box full of dictionaries, textbooks and story books in both English and Kiswahili.
We distributed more than 29,000 books in total. The books were popular not just with students, but with teachers too.
Training for success
“I liked learning about how to use pictures and other resources to develop vocabulary. I also liked activities such as summarizing stories, brainstorming, and story mapping.”
Candida Domician, library teacher, Buyango Primary School
We also trained almost 100 primary school teachers in using the box libraries, as well as in conducting reading exercises with students.
VSO volunteers on the project helped teachers develop ways to use the books in lessons and to conduct reading exercise. This was really important as further teachers were trained in the schools, with student librarians also trained to run ‘reading periods’ during the school day.
Simply improving access to books may have had an impact in itself. By training teachers, pupils and staff were engaged with the books and using them more for reading and learning. This translated into improved academic performance: students in the ‘box library’ schools improved their literacy, understanding 13.4% more of what they read.
Since 2011 we've provided box libraries to over 26,723 boys and girls in 64 schools and trained 128 teachers how to operate school libraries and teach reading.
Now we hope to be able to extend the project and build on the success of this project to reach even more children.
Already in 2016, ten further teachers have been trained. Box libraries have been delivered by motorbike to fifteen new schools so remote they cannot be reached by road.