What is phonics?
Together We Learn has been partnering with Jolly Phonics to train Ethiopian teachers to use the phonics method of teaching English. Instead of memorising words, children are taught the 42 sounds of English, which include the 26 alphabet sounds plus sounds such as ‘ch’ ‘sh’ ‘ee’ and ‘ay’.
Teaching children these sounds allows them to start reading quickly by sounding out written words. Phonics is now part of the national curriculum in the UK on the basis of its effectiveness for new readers. Jolly Phonics is working with 20 countries in Africa to train all teachers in phonics and make learning the sounds of English the de facto technique for English lessons.
Update on 2020-21
In 2020-21, Together We Learn restarted the second year of our Early Years English Improvement project. In 2019, we had begun work with 40 schools in four cities across the Amhara region, however we paused the project when schools were shut down due to the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thanks to the support of our donor, the Waterloo Foundation, we were able to rerun our activities from October 2020, working with the same schools and the same students now in grade two.
In semester one, we held a training session with 75 teachers from 37 schools and then a refresher training in semester two. We visited each teacher to observe their lessons and give them help teaching the sounds. The training was delivered by our projects manager, Zemene, who also worked with trainee teachers in the College of Teacher Training in Debre Tabor.
Teachers faced unique challenges this year and unrest and conflict in some areas of Amhara meant that some schools opened late and some teachers in Dessie were unable to travel. Despite these hurdles, the project had a huge impact again. At the end of the year when taking part in a standard test:
Students could read 22 new words compared to only 2 in control schools
Students scored 50% on test reading sentences compared to 0% in a control school.
Plans for the future
In 2021-22, we are expanding the project to the Oromia region. Working with 24 teachers in 12 schools in Dukem and Bishoftu, two towns 40km south of Addis. We also hope to continue working with Colleges of Teacher Education in Amhara so that in future all new kindergarten teachers are skilled in English phonics. We have presented our results to the Amhara Regional Education Bureau and hope to be able to work on a joint project with them to train hundreds of teachers in 2022-23.