University of Sussex project to boost reading in Africa

University of Sussex researchers have linked up with research teams in six African countries to study how primary school teachers can be helped to teach better reading and mathematics skills.

Dr Jo Westbrook, Dr Kwame Akyeampong and Dr John Pryor from the Centre for International Education in the School of Education and Social Work are leading the Teacher Preparation in Africa project alongside Research Fellow Dr Kattie Lussier.

Funding for the 15-month-long project comes from a grant of over a million dollars from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Sussex researchers are working with six in-country research teams in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda to investigate what trainee teachers in teacher training colleges know and understand about how young children learn to read and calculate.

They will also look at how new teachers actually teach reading and mathematics in primary schools and what teachers gain from further professional development training to develop their knowledge and practice.

Dr Westbrook visited Uganda and Tanzania earlier this year to launch the research with the in-country teams and met with key stakeholders in the education sector who will be part of each country’s advisory National Reference Group.

These preliminary interviews revealed some interesting first observations around reading in particular. She says: “Some wealthier children in urban areas in Uganda and Tanzania who attend English medium schools may be reading Harry Potter. But most children learn to read in their mother tongue or in a mixture of mother tongue and English/Kiswahili which can be far more difficult. They read whatever few materials are available in the local language.

“There are several projects run by local NGOs to try to encourage reading for pleasure, such as community libraries in Uganda, or fundraising for school library books written in local languages that can borrowed by the children. However, although teachers appear to know about how to teach the basics in early reading skills, getting their students to read and to comprehend longer texts is more difficult.”

Research findings will be shared with government planners, teacher education commissioners and curriculum developers in the participating countries to inform decisions about improving teachers’ understanding of how to enhance the reading and mathematics experience of children in those countries.

Notes for Editors

The Hewlett Foundation was founded by entrepreneur William Hewlett and his first wife, Flora. It has been making grants since 1967 to solve social and environmental problems around the world.

Dr Jo Westbrook is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sussex. Her research interests include: how reading is taught in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and how teachers there can make best use of their larger class sizes and challenging resources to encourage their students to read, write, speak and listen in English.

Dr Kwame Akyeampong is a University of Sussex Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Work and is coordinating the project’s work in Ghana and Kenya.

Dr John Pryor is a University of Sussex Reader in the School of Education and Social Work and is leading the work in Mali and Senegal.  

Photo: Olivier Epron

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email



Last updated: Friday, 12 March 2010