This paper describes research that took place in primary schools in two
developing countries which operate contrasting policies, Malawi and
Zambia. In Malawi the policy is to teach through the medium of a major
local language, Chichewa, for the first 4 years, with English as a
subject; in Zambia on the other hand, the policy is to teach everything
through the medium of English from the beginning of year 1, with a local
language taught as a subject. Although this report deals with Malawi and
Zambia, the findings may be relevant to the teaching and assessment of
reading in many comparable developing countries, where the teaching of
literacy to large numbers of children in difficult circumstances is an
educational necessity, and where primary schooling is, for the great
majority, the only formal education and hence the chief avenue to the
acquisition of reading.
This paper first describes the methods and classroom approaches to
reading in Malawi and Zambia, then reports on reading tests carried out
at years 3, 4, 5 and 6 in both English and the respective local
languages (Chichewa in Malawi, Nyanja in Zambia) in rural and urban
schools. In addition a sample of pupils of differing English reading
proficiencies were interviewed, and participated in individual reading
investigations. The findings confirm misgivings, expressed, for example,
in the 1992 Zambian Ministry report Focus on Learning that for the
majority of pupils in primary schools levels of reading in English are
inadequate for learning to take place. The report closes with some
suggestions as to how improvements might be brought about, while noting
that the effect of the suggestions will necessarily be limited by
factors outside the classroom, and in particular by the economic
conditions of teachers and of pupils' families.
This paper is a synthesis of Educational Papers 4 and 5.
Educational Paper No. 24, DFID, London, UK, ISBN 1 86192 041 5, 99 pp.
Investigating bilingual literacy: Evidence from Malawi and Zambia