Supporting Children’s Literacy and Health in Uganda

Providing Reading Skills and Health Awareness for Ugandan Communities

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Uganda School Health and Reading Program

The USAID-funded Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP) supports the Government of Uganda to improve the reading skills of 3.1 million Ugandan children and provides HIV/AIDS prevention education for more than 500,000 learners. Integrated into this multi-sectoral program is prevention of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and fostering inclusive education and improved learning outcomes for children with disabilities.  

Working through government structures to achieve scale, sustainability and self-reliance, SHRP is improving learning outcomes for Ugandan children while also helping them make safer, healthier choices in life.

Improved reading outcomes through mother language instruction

Building a framework focused on improving learning, the SHRP team worked with Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) to standardize the orthographies of 12 local languages and develop curricula and teaching and learning materials in these languages. This has enabled students to learn to read in their mother tongue languages before they transition to learning to read in English—a methodology proven to achieve better reading outcomes. Working in more than 4,000 schools across 43 districts, the program has trained nearly 36,000 teachers across the twelve languages and put almost 4 million books into the hands of children. When the SHRP program began, an Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) showed grade 1 students in program-supported schools unable to read even one word in their local language. 

By the end of grade 4 (the final year of program support), learners in SHRP-supported classrooms were nearly 4 times more likely to be reading 60 or more words per minute in English than control learners.  Progress was also significant in the Ngakarimojong language, with 71 percent of grade 4 learners reading more than 40 words per minute, compared to 30 percent of learners in control schools. Reading comprehension has also improved across all 12 languages.

And these improvements have proved to be lasting—although program support ends at P4, the recent assessment found that gains have been maintained in later grades. For instance, P6 learners in the Luganda language who attended SHRP-supported schools read an average of 91 words per minute (wpm) compared to 74 wpm in control groups.

Together, three projects—SHRP; the USAID-funded, RTI-implemented Uganda Literacy and Retention Activity; and the Global Partnership for Education-funded, MoES-implemented Uganda Teacher and School Effectiveness Project—are supporting improved reading outcomes at scale in 80 percent of government primary schools nationwide.

Promoting health, development and inclusion

SHRP also works with the MoES to provide sustainable approaches for effective HIV/AIDS education in primary and post-primary schools. More than 547,000 children in 2,067 schools have been reached with HIV/AIDS education and life skills information. The program also supports SRGBV prevention interventions in 164 program schools across 10 districts.

Furthermore, SHRP is supporting the MoES’s Special Needs Education Department on inclusion strategies for learners. Since 2015, more than 20,000 grades 1–4 teachers have attended trainings on how to support learners with special education needs. Additionally, early grade reading “teacher guides” have been developed by the program, which focus on literacy skills of learners with special learning needs.

Ensuring institutionalization of program impact

In 2016-2017, the MoES and Uganda’s Kyambogo University (which certifies teachers in Uganda) incorporated SHRP’s methodology and materials for improving reading instruction and preventing HIV/AIDS and SRGBV into the Primary Teacher College (PTC) pre-service curriculum. As of 2017, all school principals, deputy principals, and PTC tutors have been trained using the SHRP and LARA methodology, thereby ensuring that all new teachers entering Ugandan primary classrooms are trained to use the SHRP and LARA materials. In addition, to ensure continued focus on early grade reading, the Uganda National Examinations Board has conducted their own EGRA as part of the ministry’s reading reform efforts, and the National Curriculum Development Center has taken the lead on reviewing and revising teaching and learning materials.