Remarks by Ambassador Palmer at National Reading Program

Handover of Standard 2-4 Chichewa and English Textbooks to the Malawi National Reading Program

 Chipala Primary School, Lilongwe

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 

  • Honorable Minister of Education, Science and Technology Bright Msaka, SC;
  • British High Commissioner to Malawi Holly Tett;
  • Village Headman Ngomani and local leaders;
  • Government of Malawi officials;
  • Development partners;
  • Head teacher, teachers, students, parents; and
  • Ladies and gentlemen;

I am so pleased to be here today to hand over to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology 5.4 million Standard 2, 3, and 4 Chichewa and English textbooks and teacher guides that will be used in over 5,500 primary schools nationwide as part of Malawi’s National Reading Program.

I am thrilled to see how far we have come one year since the launch of the National Reading Program, especially as the United States Government is investing over $70 million (MK 52 billion) in the National Reading Program. We are also partnering closely with the United Kingdom, with USAID managing its $6.8 million (MK 5 billion) investment in the National Reading Program.

Last month, the Honorable Minister and I went to see the new textbooks being printed. We learned how the U.S. Government’s investments in Malawi’s printing industry have enabled high-quality books to be printed in Malawi on a large scale for the first time ever. The investment in local printing has created new Malawian jobs and built local capacity. In addition, the availability of textbooks for all learners has linked families to schools in a very important way, as one mother, Christian Kambewa, who was hired to check the print quality of the new student textbooks, explained to me.

Mrs. Kambewa said in the past, 6 or more students had to share a single book, but since the launch of the National Reading Program last year (which included the delivery of 2.7 million Standard 1 Chichewa and English student textbooks), each learner now has his or her own set of books to use at school and to take home to read after school. This has enabled parents like her to read with their children and help them with their school work.

I know how much effort has gone into revising each of the 6 student textbooks and 6 accompanying teacher guides to ensure alignment with Malawi’s National Reading Strategy over the past year.

I understand that 8 of the 12 new books were meant to be distributed between 2018 and 2019. However, the Government of Malawi recognized the need to get them out as soon as possible and they now are being introduced 2 years earlier than originally planned. This reflects incredible commitment and a remarkable achievement on the part of the Ministry of Education and its partners!

These new books include content and lessons grounded in reading research and instructional best practices developed in partnership with Malawian and international experts. And today I am thrilled to see them in the hands of students and teachers.

While hundreds of people worked together to develop the content of these and other supporting National Reading Program materials, there are 3 Malawian experts I would especially like to recognize today: Ms. Margaret Chilimanjira, Mr. Samson Khondiwa, and Mr. Henri Chilora.

All three experts passed away in 2016 while working in different ways to support the National Reading Program. In fact, all three had dedicated their lives to improving education quality for children in Malawi. Their expertise and friendship will be greatly missed.

This year, there is no better way to honor their contributions to the education sector than with the completion and rollout of the Standard 2, 3, and 4 textbooks to millions of students across the country waiting to use them in school and at home. Children this year will learn to read sooner and understand English better than ever before thanks to Margaret, Samson, Henri, and the many others who have contributed to and continue working on advancing the National Reading Program.

The U.S. Government is proud to support the Government of Malawi’s efforts to ensure that over 6 million students in Standards 1 through 4 learn to read, write, speak and think critically in Chichewa and English.

Our leaders in Washington have also shown their bipartisan support for access to quality basic education. Just last month, Congress passed the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (or READ) Act, which the President then signed into law.

The READ Act supports programs that “respond to the needs and capacities of developing countries to improve literacy,” which speaks to the very heart of what the National Reading Program is designed to do.

However, even the best teaching and learning materials don’t come alive in a classroom without the instructional leadership of well-trained teachers. I was so pleased to learn that with USAID’s technical support together with funding from the U.S. and U.K. governments, we helped the Ministry of Education train over 41,000 teachers as part of the National Reading Program in August and September.

I encourage those trained teachers to follow the carefully scripted lessons in the teachers’ guides developed by Malawian and international reading experts. Teachers should distribute the new student textbooks to each and every child, teach them how to care for the new books, and ensure that students bring the books to class every day—because they won’t learn to read in school if their books are lost or at home.

School management committees should also emphasize these points with parents so that parents are able to help their children care for the new books, bring them daily to school, and use them at home—because very few people master a new skill after only a few tries.

I hope with these new textbooks the National Reading Program will also work to extend learning opportunities into homes and communities in order to build a culture of reading in Malawi and help children practice and strengthen their reading skills, just as Mrs. Kambewa, the woman I met who was working at the printing company has already started to do.

On behalf of the United States Government, I would like to thank you, Honorable Minister Bright Msaka and your team, for continuing to provide the leadership and commitment needed to ensure the success of the National Reading Program.

At this time, I would like to call upon the British High Commissioner to join me in the symbolic handover of the 5.4 million Standard 2, 3, and 4 Chichewa and English textbooks.

Thank you.