The use of Mother Tongue has enhanced Literacy in Northern Uganda

By James Odongo

The use of mother tongue as a language of instruction in schools continues to be embraced globally. Research shows that children learn to read better if they learn in their mother tongue. UNESCO reports that there are over 250 million children out of school globally. Children, whose primary language is not the language of instruction are often marginalised as they are more likely to drop out of school.

In Uganda, Mango Tree lab organisation has been lauded for its efforts to champion the use of local languages in the education system: “We thought about the challenges of supporting literacy through local languages and for over 10 years we have championed for the use of these languages for instruction in schools in Northern Uganda.” Says Craig Esbeck, the programme Director.

Mango Tree Literacy Lab (MTLL) was established to give African children the opportunity to engage with knowledge and ideas in a language they know and understand. MTLL’s mission is to promote reading, writing, teaching, and publishing in African languages through innovative projects and enterprises.

Since its inception in 2010, Mango’s core activities have been supporting early primary literacy in the Lango Sub-region of Northern Uganda: “Our primary goal during our first ten years was to demonstrate to parents, educators, and government that when children learn to read and write in their home language, they will be more likely to acquire meaningful literacy in both the home language and English,” says Jimmi Mwoci, a literacy specialist

Use of Lëblango

Mango Tree Literacy lab has been instrumental in promoting the development and the use of Lëblango in the region through the development of materials as well as training. Notably, language development is also rated based on the number of reading materials developed and readily available for consumption by the local people. In this regard, the Mango Tree Literacy lab has developed over sixty titles of various texts to support all categories of community members in the Lango Sub-region as a means to promote the use of Leblango in the entire region. Among the materials developed include Leblango orthography guide, junior dictionary, transition primer, Lango grammar book, and leveled readers.

Parent and Community Engagement

MTLL believes that parents have a great role to play in supporting their children to acquire reading and writing skills at home. It is therefore important to guide parents on what to do with their children at home for improved learning. The Parent Literacy Guide Book was specially designed for parents who are interested in helping their children improve their literacy levels at home. Guidebooks have been developed in Leblango with many different engaging activities that parents can do together with their children for improved performance. MTLL has Teacher Mentors and Centre Coordinating Tutors (CCTs) who can train parents how to use these books at home to support their learners. Guidance is often done during parents meetings in selected schools.

Use of Radio for advocacy

For some time, there had been challenges of devaluing mother tongue among community members, especially parents who wanted their children to be taught in English when they join schools. MTLL understood the power of community radio and used the platform to carry out massive sensitization campaigns on the importance of these languages.  Parents were trained on the importance of local language in education issues to help them understand the need to support Uganda’s primary literacy policies. They were also trained to interpret their children’s literacy report cards (which Mango Tree created with teachers and translated into the local language) and use the results to support their learning at home, including activities like reading stories together. A simple Parent Assessment Tool to measure their child’s literacy progress was been developed. One-hour weekly shows were used to engage parents on this issue.

Over time, partners have recognized the importance of the use of mother tongue languages in the education system, as their children interact well and perform even better when they are taught in a language that is familiar to them.

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