The program

Aga Khan Foundation's East African Quality in Early Learning (EAQEL) initiative, which used the Reading to Learn instructional approach, aimed to improve learning outcomes in reading and numeracy in low performing districts in Kenya and Uganda. The initiative has two components, the Core Model and the Core Model Plus. The Core Model focuses on grades 1-3 and consists of training teachers in the Reading to Learn approach (a student-centered approach to improving literacy and numeracy by focusing on social interaction) and supporting schools to improve provision of teaching and learning materials. The Core Model Plus is a combination of Core Model activities and an additional component that engages parents.

The parental component includes storytelling for children, establishing community mini-libraries, and asking parents to read to their children. Teachers help to train parents using Aga Khan Foundation's Reading for Children guidelines. About five libraries were established in each school catchment area, and in each village, a volunteer was trained on basic library management including keeping of simple records to track books. Each volunteer received a starter kit of about 230 books (in English and Kiswahili). Ultimately, the program wanted parents to utilize the mini-libraries for their children and take ownership in running them.

Overcoming challenges

Overall, the program found that most of the parents were receptive of the program. However, there was some initial hesitation from parents who did not see how they could help their children if they themselves could not read. The program introduced these parents to different strategies including referring to images in the books and having older siblings read. Once parents were convinced they could help, they were more willing to engage in the program.

Another challenge was in relation to monitoring the impact of the program at the home level. When monitoring program impact at the village level, the program was able to keep track of lending rates from libraries and record observations from meetings; however, it was difficult to monitor at the parent level due given the difficulty of knowing what kind of activities were occurring inside the home. Given this, EAQEL relied on village librarians, who were able to visit homes, to report on this aspect of program impact.

An additional challenge faced was that after a while, many children had read most of the titles in the village libraries. The expectation was for schools and parents to come up with innovations on how they could add more books and keep the mini-libraries alive. In response, a number of actions were taken by the community, including parents contributing books from their homes (e.g., those that had been used by their children when they were younger), parents buying books and giving them to the library, and individual community members soliciting book donations from willing friends, family, or donors.