Mozambique is currently in the midst of a major campaign to increase early childhood literacy. Investments have been made in reading assessment, teacher training, data collection and school materials. But is there a role for institutions outside the formal schools in making sure more children are able to read?
On August 21, more than 20 representatives of Mozambican government ministries, community organizations, international NGOs and public and community libraries gathered at the National Library in Maputo for a Beyond Access salon to discuss where libraries fit into the literacy picture. Mozambique currently has 60 public libraries at the provincial and district level, and a number of community library projects run by different organizations, including a major one implemented by the Peace Corps in cooperation with Associação Livro Aberto, and 19 local organizations.
Is there a role for institutions outside the formal schools in making sure more children are able to read?
The conversation was kicked off by Ministry of Culture and Tourism Permanent Secretary Domingos Artur. The Mozambique government’s priority is to “develop the population’s skills, knowledge and capacity,” he noted, and libraries have a strategic role in meeting these priorities. He emphasized how most development goals are rooted in access to information – including family planning, literacy, health and child development. “Libraries in Mozambique need people with the heart for supporting children’s reading skills through experiences with books and literacy activities,” he said. This means we also need to strengthen skills for librarians at progressive libraries and community library programs. “People make it work, not resources.”
He noted that in Cape Town the previous week, Ministries of Culture from across the continent, including Mozambique, had pledged to include and develop libraries in the Cape Town Declaration, now part of the Africa 2063 agenda.
Some highlights of the discussion included:
Libraries as community centers
Libraries have the potential to be community centers that offer reading materials and literacy activities for a range of ages. “Libraries can be the link between schools and communities,” one participant suggested. It is important for libraries to engage with parents in order to create a cycle of demand and cultivate a value for reading and literacy. This work with parents is indeed one of the areas where libraries are needed to complement the work of schools with children. Librarians shared experiences of bringing parents into the library by organizing exhibitions of children’s work. Some thought that public libraries need to put more emphasis on engaging parents and children, as this isn’t something they typically focus on currently.
Reaching beyond the urban areas
Though Mozambique is undergoing rapid urbanization like other developing countries, there is still an acute lack of services beyond the cities. Libraries, therefore, should conduct more outreach beyond their immediate vicinity. One district librarian shared his experience of advocating successfully for funding for a vehicle to reach distant communities. Libraries discussed novel ways of getting reading materials to villages, including sending out librarians with suitcases packed with books and games to nearby areas. Still, as Secretary Artur pointed out, “we often focus on rural areas, but it’s in the cities that parents have less time with their children – they often see them only shortly in early evening.” Relevant strategies are needed in both areas to help parents get and stay involved in their children’s early education.
What’s the role of technology?
Participants considered how technology might strengthen literacy efforts. Today, mobile networks reach even the most remote areas of Mozambique, meaning these tools can be exploited. Mobile devices can be a low-cost way to bring reading materials to rural areas, and experimentation with these ideas may be worthwhile in Mozambique. Libraries could be facilitators that test out and gather feedback on ways of using technology to support literacy development.
Coordination and Harmonization
There are a number of libraries offering innovative literacy programs, and many literacy initiatives, each working in isolation. Maria Brigada from the Ministry of Education and Human Development suggested that for better learning and for real national impact, it would be useful for these programs to have mechanisms for coordination and knowledge exchange. Participants suggested that the group at the salon would be ideal for driving forward the debate on formally involving libraries in literacy programming.
The event was covered by more than a dozen media outlets, including TV, radio and newspaper. Beyond Access is exploring follow-up activities in the country, including a larger national conference on the topic, as well as some initial data collection that could inform the dialogue on the role of libraries in literacy in Mozambique.