The program

Through its Northern Uganda Literacy Program (NULP), Mango Tree works closely with the Lango and Kumam language communities to improve literacy performance among pupils in early primary classrooms (P1-P3) and strengthen the literacy infrastructure in Northern Uganda. The program’s emphasis is on reading and writing in the local language and English in the first three years of primary school. In addition to striving to improve the quality of children’s education, NULP aims to make the local language a meaningful part of daily life in communities. NULP’s work includes the following components:

  • Teacher training: NULP trains teachers in the basics of the local language's spelling and grammar system as well as a set of simple, effective teaching methods so that they can teach effectively and confidently in the local language.  Teachers engage in four accelerated trainings on literacy methods and Leblango orthography during the school holidays. The literacy methods addressed in the trainings include whole language and phonics approaches. Teachers are also provided with additional support through in-school monitoring and Saturday in-service training throughout the academic year. Those who have mastered the Mango Tree model help to facilitate the training and provide opportunities for teachers to learn from one another as “mentor” teachers. The program also develops and provides instructional videos for teachers in order to ensure that the quality of the training is consistent. Government teacher trainers, or Coordinating Center Tutors (CCTs), use solar powered DVD players to provide low cost training, and provide ongoing support that addresses the specific needs of the teachers.  
  • Effective, affordable language instruction resources: NULP has written a teacher's guide that provides an outline for every language lesson.  Additionally, for the past 4 years, Mango Tree has partnered with teachers and CCTs to ensure the instructional design is realistic and appropriate for the local context. Additionally, local writers are trained to write engaging and culturally appropriate readers and primers at the right reading level for children. There are 3 terms per academic year and one primer and one reader is given to each child per term. Since they are printed locally, these materials are inexpensive to develop and are easy to store and distribute, thus allowing a variety of groups to access them including parents.
  • Comprehensive lesson and classroom assessment model: In order to support the Ugandan Ministry of Education's curriculum, NULP has developed a continuous assessment-monitoring program for teachers that aid them in measuring their students' literacy competencies. This involves the application of continuous assessment activities throughout the year which are included in the lesson designs.  Through this monitoring system, and using simple tools, teachers are able to measure their students' progress daily. In addition to assessment monitoring, NULP has provided a literacy report card template for teachers to share with parents.  Parents are also provided with training to utilize a simple tool to assess their child’s progress at home. The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) is used annually to track student progress.   
  • Community support for local language literacy:  Community and parent advocacy programs have been established by NULP to build understanding of local language education issues as well as Uganda's government policies regarding early primary literacy. Schools participating in NULP organize activities to educate parents and engage them in their children's education. In addition to advocacy events, NULP sponsors a weekly radio show and an annual literature event.

These methods have been influenced by a variety of foundational resources including the “5 Big Ideas of Literacy,” which are a set of methods used as a foundation for teaching reading, and “The Multi-Strategy Economy Model for Instruction (M-SEM),” which provides ideas and strategies for reading and writing strategies to use in developing country contexts. A third foundational resource is research and case studies from the Early Grade Learning Community of Practice (EGLCP) in the report "Early Reading: Igniting Education for All," which identifies five “lampposts” that can guide low-income countries and the international education community in the creation of early grade literacy agendas.

Facing challenges

The four components outlined above have guided NULP in addressing a major systemic challenge, teacher effectiveness. Another challenge NULP has faced is that local languages may not have a standardized writing system (orthography). It is necessary to decide on and develop a standard orthography before literacy in the mother tongue can be taught. In building orthographies, NULP has found it critical to work with local language boards, who are the “owners” of the local language. Additional language challenges faced by NULP include the existence of multiple dialects of a given language, resulting in different ideas about how a language should be written, as well as the shortage of written materials in the local languages. In response to this challenge, Mango Tree is working to develop local language storybooks.

Below are a few examples of teacher guides developed by Mango Tree, including activities teachers can use to teach Leblango and English.