Florida State experts take part in development of Ethiopia’s literacy program

Experts from Florida State University are working with educators in Ethiopia to develop a nationwide reading and writing program that could reach 15 million students in the African nation.

“Our team is currently conducting an assessment of pre-service teacher education programs in Ethiopia and will offer recommendations for training teachers to implement a comprehensive, nationwide program on reading and writing for primary school teachers in the first grade through the eighth grade,” said Flavia Ramos-Mattoussi, Ed.D., associate director of Florida State’s Center for International Studies in Educational Research and Development (CISERD) and the principal investigator on the Ethiopia-READ project.

With support from a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, CISERD is providing technical assistance to Regional State Education Bureaus, Colleges of Teacher Education and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. CISERD is part of a large group of partners, led by the Research Triangle Institute, working with the Ethiopian government to establish reading and writing instruction in both the mother tongue and in English.

“Ethiopia is a highly diverse nation of 94 million people,” noted Ramos-Mattoussi,” so instruction in the mother tongue can mean teaching reading and writing in seven different languages in five regions of the country. Our team will help identify strategies for overcoming what could be a significant challenge for the education system.”

There are as many as 70 mother tongues spoken throughout Ethiopia, though many are used by a small number of people. English is the major foreign language taught in Ethiopia’s schools and colleges.

“Our project targets several languages, spoken in five regions of the country, including Afan Oromo, Amharic, Hadissa, Somali, Tigrigna, and English as a foreign language,” Ramos-Mattoussi explained. “The major problem is that there are very limited resources in terms of materials and textbooks written in these languages. Amharic used to be the language of instruction throughout the country, but that changed in the 1990s, when Ethiopia put in place new education and language policies emphasizing the use of ‘mother tongue,’ or local language, for early grade instruction.”

The Florida State team, which has extensive experience in international education, will review the curriculum for reading instruction used in Ethiopia’s classrooms and will offer recommendations on the development of materials in multiple languages and in different scripts.

An Ethiopian teacher addresses her class; CISERD's team visited this school and others in June and July as part of an assessment of reading instruction and learning. Now, CISERD will prepare recommendations on training teachers to meet Ethiopia's ambitious literacy goals.
An Ethiopian teacher addresses her class; CISERD’s team visited this school and others in June and July as part of an assessment of reading instruction and learning. Now, CISERD will prepare recommendations on training teachers to meet Ethiopia’s ambitious literacy goals.

“We are confident that our involvement in Ethiopia-READ will yield benefits on both sides,” Ramos-Mattoussi said. “We have much to learn how teacher educators and linguists develop strategies and materials for teaching literacy in a multilingual environment with limited resources.”

The CISERD experts are focusing on how Ethiopia trains its teachers and what actions the nation’s Ministry of Education could take to prepare teachers for success in this ambitious national literacy effort.

“The classroom context in Ethiopia is very different from the classrooms our reading experts find in Florida,” Ramos-Mattoussi said. For example, not all students in the Colleges of Teacher Education have access to textbooks, computers and the Internet, and while many colleges and universities teach their courses in English, many students struggle with the language. This requires college instructors to translate the course content into the local language.

“We really need to adapt to a very different set of expectations,” she said. “Our experience in Ethiopia tells that teachers there are eager to learn, and we are learning a lot from them in this process.”

With Ethiopia-READ, Ethiopia’s educators and the U.S. Agency for International Development are trying to address the low literacy rates found among primary school children in assessments in 2010 and 2011. USAID currently supports several reading education efforts in African nations where literacy among children is chronically low.

CISERD’s work in Ethiopia will continue through 2017. Other members of Florida States’s team in Ethiopia are:

  • Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, Ph.D. (Co-Principal Investigator).
  • Young-Suk Kim, Ed.D. (Co-Principal Investigator).
  • Marion Fesmire, Ed.D. (Reading Instruction Specialist).
  • Phyllis Swann Underwood, Ph.D. (Reading Instruction Specialist).
  • Shannon Hall-Mills, Ph.D. (Reading Instruction Specialist).
  • Jeanne Wanzek, Ph.D. (Reading Instruction Specialist).
  • Nenita Asi Milligan, Leon County Primary School Teacher (consultant).
  • Elisa (Lisa) Scherff, Ph.D. (Reading Instruction Specialist).
  • Peter Easton, Ph.D. (Literacy and Program Evaluation Short-Term Technical Advisor).
  • Rebecca Galeano, Ph.D. (Language Instruction Specialist, Short-Term Technical Advisor).
  • Erica Pereira Amorim (Graduate Research Assistant).

Florida State’s Center for International Studies in Educational Research and Development works to improve learning and instruction in developing countries through educational research and development. The center works with international partners in government, universities and non-governmental organizations.

CISERD is modeled after its predecessor, the Center for International Studies, which played a key role in building and maintaining Florida State’s international standing in educational development during the 1980s and 1990s.

The center is part of the Learning Systems Institute, which has worked in 25 countries and partnered with dozens of international institutions, managing more than $93 million in international projects alone.

Other centers in the Learning Systems Institute are the Florida Center for Reading Research, the Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the Center for Learning and Performance Systems and the PALM Center: Partnerships Advancing Library Media.