Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gambia: Quality education remains a challenge

Gambia struggle to give quality education to citizens, admits Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE): PHOTO: Fatou Lamin Faye Minister of BSE.

By Jainaba Manjang, The Voice Newspaper

After 47 years of independence, The Gambia, a low income and highly indebted poor West African country, is struggling to give her citizens the quality education they desire.

A few years ago, the Government adopted a mass promotion strategy for students in lower schools with the introduction of the Basic Cycle system which covered Grade 1-9 - a policy that was supported and as well criticised in some quarters.

The 2004-2015 education policy stress that quality and relevance of the curriculum and learning materials is a concern for teachers and parents alike. Amid a very high illiteracy rate, children continue to perform unsatisfactorily in the national assessment tests as well as the terminal school examinations.

Quality education still remains a challenge in the Gambia, officials at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education admit in a 2012 Report.

The Report revealed abysmal results from a 2007 (first) sample of primary schools on early grade reading assessment (EGRA). The results compelled Gambia’s education officials to embark on an immediate intervention to “remedy the situation” as there was scientifically tested strategy for teaching and reading.

Effects to enhance reading abilities were initiated through the development of a handbook with detailed lesson plans for teaching each of the five key competencies in reading.

This was followed by an in-service training of teachers in grades 1-3, senior teachers, head teachers and cluster monitors on the use of the handbook. 

Subsequently, the Gambia adopted the jolly phonics approach to reading instruction which is now being implemented in collaboration with the Gambia association of teachers of English (GATE).

A similar approach was introduced and adopted by future in our hands (FIOH) know as Seraholt early grade reading ability (SEGRA) in schools where the agency operates. The report also indicated the use of national language for reading instruction was also piloted in 125 schools across the country.

The success of the new approaches to teaching reading was put to a preliminary-evaluation by the ministry of basic and secondary education with evidence of some learning gains, especially in the basic skills such as letter sounds, naming and decoding.

However, the report said “despite the achievement registered, significant and sustained improvement in both reading fluency and most important, comprehension, remain a challenge.”

The education system of the Gambia experience rapid expansion in the number of schools and children enrolment despite the encouraging results observed in the area of access to education, the report said. 

“The current efforts of the ministry are, therefore, geared towards improving the quality education at all levels,” it added. “The education policy 2004-2015 states that the issue of quality and relevance of the curriculum and learning materials have been a concern for teachers and parents alike.”

In recent years, the World Bank, USAID, and other donors have supported the early grade reading assessment (EGRA) initiatives in many parts of the world, including the Gambia, with a view to finding out whether children master the basic reading skills in the early grades and also introduce measurers towards improving the reading abilities of children. 

Now, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education believes there is enough evidence to suggest that indeed “we could achieve a major breakthrough in literacy by the end of Grade 2.”
But it warns that this could only be “if the right inputs and processes are used.”

It argues the early intervention being implemented is independent of the other and a comparative analysis on the strengths and weaknesses but the inherent opportunities of the approaches are yet to be established.

Whilst the ministry of basic and secondary education values the curricula contents of all the prevailing approaches to reading instructions, it said there is a need to identify and share experiences on the strengths, challenges and opportunities regarding the planning, organization, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and assessment of students’ achievements.

A national conference on reading is therefore imperative to address these needs, and the Ministry did just that when it hosted a two-day (September 25-26) national conference on Early Grade Reading under the theme “The Gambia Reads”. 

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