Since 2015, we have introduced phonics as our main method for teaching reading and writing with our nursery pupils – and we are enjoying some notable progress in the children’s ability to read and write. Not only are the children beginning to read independently, but the teachers are also enjoying both the more interactive and diverse teaching methods and the satisfaction of seeing that their teaching is having a direct impact on the children’s reading ability.
Child of Hope is pioneering the phonics method as a way of teaching reading and writing in the early years. This approach systemises and simplifies the teaching of reading and writing, building up decoding skills and complexity of reading skill progressively. Along with words that are regular and can be easily decoded using known sounds, the phonics approach also teaches ‘sight words’ (irregular, common words) so that children can quickly begin reading and building sentences. We are using elements of a number of UK phonics programmes, but have now designed our own programme! As well as teaching reading and writing, our programme also aids the children’s acquisition of English language and uses culturally familiar and relevant stories and teaching aids. Recently, we have been able to buy storybooks for use in language and phonics that are set in Africa. The children (and staff!) are greatly enjoying using them.
Phonics is being encouraged as a method of teaching reading and writing by the local education authority (Mbale District Education Board), and by the Ugandan Curriculum Board, which advises on teaching methodology, curriculum coverage and resources to be used. Unfortunately, phonics has not yet reached the teacher training colleges and many writings of the curriculum also do not include a systematic teaching of reading with phonics. We hope that we will be able to provide a model of a culturally sensitive phonics programme that can potentially inspire, and even be used, in other local schools. As functional illiteracy is a sadly widespread problem amongst Primary School leavers, we hope to be one small drop in the ocean, so to speak, in making a difference!