The Happy Readers series of educational books are specifically created for children living in Africa, and over the last two years have rolled out in over 500 schools in Zimbabwe and the Zambian ministry of education has now approved them.
Originally created in the 1980s, the series works along the lines of the famous Janet and John books – teaching literacy through word repetition – but uses characters, animals and settings familiar to rural and urban African children.
“Many book series are European or American in content and African children, especially those living in rural areas, can find it hard to understand the word meanings or the way of life depicted. This makes learning harder,” said Emma O’Beirne, who re-launched the series with her husband Conor two years ago after seeing illiteracy rates skyrocket in Zimbabwe.
The books themselves are also manufactured to last longer than normal textbooks, and Happy Readers have developed their own literacy test after finding that the usual tests assume a level of English that most children do not possess.
“Our test takes it back a few steps, so that the kids can actually get a grade, and the teachers can monitor progress. With other tests they just get a zero result which is pretty discouraging and doesn’t show where or when the improvement starts to kick in”.
“We believe the schools and teachers need to know where they stand on literacy – the current levels are shocking. Worse than we had thought,” O’Beirne said.
Since the series was relaunched nearly every private school in Zimbabwe has bought them – but despite being more affordable than the alternatives, lack of funding is hindering the programme’s potential.
“Everyone from the headmasters, to ministry staff, to the villagers understands the importance of being able to read and are incredibly keen to see the projects work, but it is still hard to raise funding,” O’Beirne said.
“Wherever we can, we try and scale back costs on a reading project to ensure that funding goes on books, not travel expenses or luxury workshops, and because we are on the ground here we can check project details easily. We really have no future if the children cannot read,” O’Beirne said.Post published in: Arts