Promoting a Culture of Reading in Kenya

I returned from Kenya over a month ago and am still reflecting on the conversations that I had there with teachers, students, administrators, and officials at the Kenya Institute of Education. There’s so much to think about and digest. The one thing, however, that I have been thinking about ever since I came back is the lack of reading culture in Kenyan schools. One of the main things that all English teachers we worked with wanted to learn from our workshops was how to encourage reading in their classrooms.

Miti Mingi Secondary School, Kenya

You may think that this problem is not unique to Kenya, that in many classrooms in wealthy developed nations students are also often uninterested in reading. I agree. As an English teacher in Canada I often struggled with this challenge in my classroom. However, in Kenya, this problem is compounded by some deep-rooted issues that have been part of the education system since Kenya gained independence in 1963.

First, almost all the students and teachers we came into contact with in the rural schools we visited speak English as their second or even third language. Yet, when teachers speak of encouraging a culture of reading, they invariably mean the culture of reading in English. In other words, they want to encourage a culture of reading in a language that students use very rarely outside the classroom.

Second, the Kenyan system of education is dominated by exams which play a crucial role in deciding the students’ future. Results obtained on these exams determine whether or not the student can move on to the next grade, to high school, or to post-secondary education. If the results are not high enough, the student is almost always left without options.

English as a Second/Third Language

Kiswahili and English are both taught in Kenyan schools. Kiswahili is the language of instruction in grades 1 through 3, while English is taught as a subject. In grade 4, English replaces Kiswahili as the language of instruction and Kiswahili is taught as a subject until grade 12. The language policy is bilingual, but from what we’ve observed some Kenyans are monolingual, some bilingual, and some multilingual. In other words, most of the children we observed and most of the teachers we worked with speak three languages: they speak their mother tongue (Kikuyu in the region we visited), Kiswahili, and also English. English is not the language you hear on the street in small towns and villages in rural Kenya. It is rarely used by the students outside of class time.

What this means in the classroom is that the mother tongue or Kiswahili are used quite often. Occasionally, even the teacher uses the mother tongue or Kiswahili to explain challenging concepts (personal observation; Muthwii, 2004). Also, when students converse with each other, both in class and outside instructional times, they very rarely use English. I observed this phenomenon in every elementary and secondary school we visited.

English is therefore seen in very pragmatic terms. It is used to obtain an education and write exams. As a result, students do not use colloquial English, and it could even be argued that in a country where English is often a third language, there are limited opportunities for them to do so. As Commeyras and Inyega argue, “their instruction in English typically lacks meaningful interactive use in meaningful contexts” (2007). English is not the language of social interaction. Code-switching is very common in instructional contexts. The use of Kiswahili or mother tongue among students outside of class is the norm. Voluntary reading in English is therefore rare because English is perceived as a tool used only to pass exams and secure employment (Commeyras & Inyega, 2007).


This lack of interest in English is greatly exacerbated by the fact that, in Kenya, students write exams at the end of every grade. They must pass that final exam to proceed to the next grade. They also write a cumulative exam at the end of elementary school (grade 8). Known as the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), this exam determines whether or not the child will go on to secondary school and also the kind of secondary school he or she will attend. Then, at the end of high school, students write another exam, known as the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). This exam determines whether or not the student can be considered for admission to a post-secondary institution.

If a child fails either one of the exams, her educational opportunities end. She will not proceed to high school or post-secondary education. She cannot try again. Her entire life depends on two hours at the end of grade eight or grade twelve.

Miti Mingi Secondary School, Kenya

Needless to say, reading and the use of English are associated with formal schooling. One uses the language to prepare for and pass exams. Reading and writing in English are perceived as skills that students need to develop to function successfully in school, not something that a student perceives as valuable (or even usable) outside the classroom in her community and in social contexts.

So What?

Imagine trying to build a culture of reading in English in a classroom where the students see English only as a means to an end. It’s a language they do not use in their daily lives outside of school. In fact, students in rural communities do not have many opportunities to practice the language in interactive and meaningful social contexts. This lack of what Commeyras and Inyega call “enabling environment” (2007) certainly contributes to the students’ perception that English is a tool one must master only in order to study and pass exams. It is not personally meaningful at all. English is predominantly the language of academic contexts.

One could argue that reading in English could help the students increase their chances of performing well on their exams. Unfortunately, the exams consist of fill in the blanks questions, and some multiple choice and short answer questions. They certainly do not require too much critical thinking. Rote memorization is quite sufficient.

Can Anything Be Done?

While I agree that it is challenging to encourage students to use English outside of school where they seem perfectly happy communicating in their mother tongue or Kiswahili, it is imperative that the use of English in school change from purely formal and transactional to more expressive, interactive, and socially meaningful. One of the main barriers that has traditionally made this shift impossible is that teaching in Kenya is very teacher-centred. In addition, instruction in an English classroom is often limited to cloze tests, reading comprehension exercises, and short answer questions. Students are generally not given opportunities to express their opinions or engage in class discussions or debates. Chalk and talk dominates classroom interactions.

But, how do we encourage teachers in Kenya to adopt a more student-centred approach? How can we support them in this shift to a more participatory environment?

I think that the small, gradual steps – the approach we used this past summer – are necessary to help teachers move out of their current comfort zone and test themselves using a different teaching methodology. According to Commeyras and Inyega (2007), two research-based Kenyan documents (MOEST, 2001; Willis, 1988) suggest that teachers can promote greater interest in reading by reading aloud to their students. Furthermore, talking with students about the texts as preparation for independent reading can also be very effective (Willis, 1988). Of course, the challenge here is that this approach requires that the teachers themselves be committed and enthusiastic readers willing to share their personal stories and reactions with their students. I believe that the students need to see in their teachers a high level of authentic engagement with a text in order to be encouraged by this approach. Teachers need to learn how to communicate their passion for reading and they need support in learning how to initiate and sustain meaningful conversations about texts in their classrooms. This is not an easy task for a teacher who is used to lecturing and who every day walks into a classroom where the students have been conditioned to sit quietly and listen.

Teachers Without Borders - Canada. First Workshop with Secondary Teachers in Maai Mahiu, Kenya

I learned this past summer that creating a participatory environment in Kenya involves two steps:

1. Helping the teacher understand the value of the Socratic method and student voice in the classroom

2. Helping the teacher convey that value to students who have spent years in a teacher-centred system that rewards those who are quiet and equate learning with rote memorization.

The teachers who attended the TWB-Canada workshops in Kenya were very open to new ideas and most were very enthusiastic about creating a more student-centred environment in their classrooms. I look forward to meeting many of them again next summer and I plan to continue to work on encouraging independent reading and an open, participatory classroom culture.

Access to Reading Materials

The importance of independent reading has been addressed by the Kenyan Ministry of Education (MOEST, 2001). The ministry even listed a number of suggestions to encourage reading in Kenyan classrooms:

MOEST (2001) provides a variety of ways for encouraging students to read, including setting aside time each week to be used for reading in class; specifying the amount of reading to be done out of class and keeping a record to track the reading that the pupil has done; asking students to give oral reports of what they are reading; using resource persons to read to the pupils, modeling how they want the pupils to read; and rewarding effort made to read (Commeyras & Inyega, 2007).

The one barrier that still needs to be addressed, however, is the question of access. When we discuss independent reading in North America,  or in any developed nation, we don’t spend too much time thinking about access to appropriate materials. We take for granted that students have access to libraries, either in their schools or in the community. We know that their parents can also purchase books or magazines. Access to reading material is not an issue.

In Kenya, things are very different. Efforts to encourage independent reading will be pointless if the students have no access to reading materials. While some schools we visited in rural Kenya had small libraries or book collections, most did not have any reading material except textbooks. Consequently, another goal for our next project in Kenya is to help improve access to reading materials by fundraising for paperbacks or magazine subscriptions that can be purchased locally to eliminate shipping costs.

In short, as I begin to prepare for next year’s Teachers Without Borders workshops in Kenya, I think about how we can best assist Kenyan teachers in creating an environment in their classrooms where the students will be given opportunities to share their views, participate in debates, and use English in an expressive, creative way, not merely as a tool to help them fill in the blanks on a test. The teachers I met in Kenya were very open to making the kind of shift in their pedagogy that is required to ensure that their students have opportunities to move away from the formal and transactional uses of English and towards a more expressive and personal voice. At the same time, I realize that access to paperbacks and magazines will be crucial and I hope that, as a team, Teachers Without Borders – Canada will be able to raise enough funds to bring more books to Kenyan classrooms.

If you think you might be able to help, please let me know.


Commeyras, M. & Inyega, H. (2007). An integrative review of teaching reading in Kenyan primary schools. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(2), 258-281.

Ministry of Education Science and Technology. (2001). Teaching and learning English in the primary classroom: English module. Nairobi: Jomo Kenyatta Foundation.

Muthwii, M. (2004). Language of instruction: A qualitative analysis of the perception of parents, pupils, and teachers among the Kalenjin in Kenya. Language, Culture, and Curriculum, 17, 15-32.

Willis, B.J. (1988). Aspects of the acquisition of orality and literacy in Kenyan primary school children (Kiswahili). Dissertation Abstracts International, 50, 433. (UMI No. 8908590).

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34 Responses to Promoting a Culture of Reading in Kenya

  1. Karyn Romeis October 8, 2008 at 3:08 am #

    When you think of the history of reading in English, you can see how the availability of English printed material represents the turning point. When the Bible became available to the common man and he was no longer dependent on the priest to tell him what it said, that turned the tide.

    In our minds often ‘reading’ is inextricably linked with English. Why should it be? I have a few random thoughts on this subject, which I will record in no particular order:

    English has a long history of being in print. Many African languages do not. The Wycliffe people have gone into many countries to develop written forms of languages which, to this day, do not exist as such. This includes the Rendille language in Kenya. Where there is no long history of the written word, there can be no corresponding culture of reading.

    Also, once a written form of a lnaguage exists, the first thing that happens is that existing texts are translated into that language. This is all well and good, but it is more than just the issue of language that made those stories inaccessible. There is the whole matter of idiom and culture. I remember being very confused as a child when reading English children’s books, because these kids all had ‘tea’ in the afternoon, but they didn’t drink it out of a cup. They ate it off a plate, often in the form of something I thought was pronounced blank-mange. This was weird, because we bred dogs and mange was a disease that meant a dog had to be put down – what the heck did it have to do with tea? I had no way of relating to the schooling system, either: what were ‘upper sixth’ and ‘lower fifth’ anyway? If I had these difficulties as a first language English speaker, imagine the difficulties for a child who does not have English as a first language – even translated these concepts are so very English.

    There are so many things that do not cross the cultural divide: not every group of people expresses affection by means of kissing – to some it is an uinknown concept; few other cultures would know what it means to ‘cross your fingers’ or ‘hold thumbs’.

    Often the Bible is the first thing that is translated into a language, so let’s look at that. Let’s consider the bit where John the baptist declares himself unfit even to tie the laces of Jesus’s sandals. How would that translate into the language of a community in Siberia who have never seen sandals and have no concept of what they might be?

    A culture of reading can only truly be fostered when literature is available in a language that tells stories that are relevant to the speakers of that language. Where the way in which the characters express themselves is familiar to the reader. Where the characters are believable ‘types’ from within communities that are familiar, facing challemges to which the reader can relate. Otherwise every book is like the fantasy/science fiction genre, and not everyone is a fan!

    You have to be able at least to visualise what’s going on in the story to be able to remain interested.

    So what it will take, I reckon, is for educated Kenyans to start writing stories of local flavour. To embroider on the traditional themes taken from the tales told by generations of elders to their children. Tales about people they almost know doing things they have almost done or can at least imagine. A Kenyan child has no use for Biggles (mind you, much as I loved the books as a child rereading one recently, I decided that no child should have a use for such a pompous, classist bigot!)

    Sorry – long comment.

  2. mosh October 8, 2008 at 5:51 am #

    Wow. What you speak of is exactly what I a planning to do. How refreshing! I was researching this post: when I came across your post here.

    I agree with you for the most part, especially what you say regarding creating a participatory learning environment. I have schooled in Kenya all my life and I can relate to that very much.

    However, I disagree with one statement you made:
    “One could argue that reading in English could help the students increase their chances of performing well on their exams. Unfortunately, the exams consist of fill in the blanks questions, and some multiple choice and short answer questions. They certainly do not require too much critical thinking. Rote memorization is quite sufficient.”

    This is generally true but the KCSE exams have some very demanding papers which do require a lot of critical thinking. Still, the overwhelming majority of our education system is flawed.

    I am particularly interested in your idea of bringing reading materials to school kids. How can I help?

  3. Dipesh Pabari October 8, 2008 at 12:14 pm #

    Thanks for writing this comprehensive post. Bringing reading materials to school children is of particular interest to me and I am forutnate enough to have a mother that has spent the last five years doing exactly this in western Kenya (building and stocking small school libraries). In addition, I think you should check out Storymoja ( which is a homegrown initiative with exactly this purpose in mind.
    One thing I would add that it is not enough to just bring books from overseas but to try and promote the ever increasing local publications so that Kenyan children can read and appreciate stories set within an environment they know and inspire them by exposing them to the amazing imagination that exists within our fibre and is beyond the demands of core curriculum. A Kenyan book for a Kenyan child is something several of us have been exploring and hope to launch this off sometime soon.

  4. alison rogers October 8, 2008 at 2:49 pm #

    I found this article very interesting and it certainly reflects my expereince of working with a number of local schools in the Kisumu area. We also discovered there were no reading books at all in our local primary schools, only text books. When we tried to put some books into the local primary schools we found that they were locked into the teacher’s cupboard and never allowed to be taken out as she was scared they would be spoilt or stolen.

    As a result we started a small community library for our local schools to use and we trained up a lady from the community to be a librarian. We found the children were very excited to borrow the books and treated them with great respect. They loved looking at the pictures but the majority of our books were in English and many of the lower primary class children, as you recognised in your study did not speak English. However, we felt that reading the pictures and talking about them was a valuable way of appreciating a book. We also worked hand in hand with a local story teller who told local tales and the tales from the story books that the children could borrow. This proved to be helpful as he provided a way into the stories in the students traditional language.

    I agree it would be better to have more local traditional stories and books but we have found them to be quite expensive. There seems to be two types of primary stories available in our local bookshop: the first type seems to be targeted mainly for an ex-pat readership – the beautiful Jacaranda books whose price make it largely unaffordable for a local audience. The second type of book is much cheaper but the stories are less imaginative and seem rather to serve the purpose of teaching reading – not so much for pleasure but for the exam!! There don’t seem to be many affordable Kenayn picture books to engage children from an early age in reading.

    In addition there is not a culture of parents sitting down at bedtime with their children to read them a story. Books and magazines are not found in the local homes of the children we worked with and indeed most homes don’t have electricity, making it difficult to read in the evening. However we still found oral stories still popular. But if children never see their parents read or cuddle up to read a book with them it is difficult to see how reading can be embedded in Kenyan schools.

    We had only run our library for a year before it was burnt in the post-election violence and so I can’t ascertain how successful our project was in changing a culture. However, we would like to rebuild the library as the children in our locality keep asking us if they can borrow books again. As a result if it is possible to get any more books to rebuild our library again we would be really grateful.


  5. Carol Gaithuma October 9, 2008 at 6:12 am #

    It is very true that there is no reading culture in Kenya and I attribute that to the way reading is introduced to children. The first experience a child in Kenya has with reading is not at home but at school and that is why they are oriented to read to pass exams and not to enhance knowledge or as a leisure activity. Storymoja is a publishing company that is currently running a reading campaign in Nairobi soon to roll out to the other provinces. Apart from producing Kenyan childrens books which we intend to start distributing by November this year, we are also encouraging children to read by running a spelling bee. The spelling bee taps into the competitive nature of children and ensures that they read a lot in order to know how to spell. maybe we can work together when you come to hold the next series of workshops you will be holding in Kenya.

    You can find out about our upcoming children books on


  6. Dipesh Pabari October 9, 2008 at 9:35 am #

    Interesting that you have posted about this as Reuters African Journal have just released a featured entitled, “Is anyone reading in Kenya” surrounding the Kwani Litfest we recently hosted. You can watch the video and read other interesting and related articles on the link below:

  7. Konrad Glogowski October 10, 2008 at 10:19 am #


    Thank you for your comment. It’s clear that you are very passionate about this issue, as am I.

    You wrote that “In our minds often ‘reading’ is inextricably linked with English. Why should it be?” I agree. To me, reading is reading. I don’t associate it with English, I associate it with literacy.

    You touch upon a key point that I want to address in my next entry, namely, that there doesn’t seem to be any tangible initiatives to promote reading in the mother tongue. I don’t have anything against promoting a culture of reading in English in Kenya. I think it is an important and necessary initiative, and I applaud people who devote their time and energy to ensure that young Kenyans read more in English. I also want to make sure that Teachers Without Borders – Canada and I, personally, are involved in promoting English literacy in Kenya.

    However, this push to promote reading in English seems to be done at the cost of ignoring the mother tongue. As I mentioned in my entry, many Kenyans are multilingual and yet only English is promoted as a valuable linguistic resource. This ignores all the research done on the importance of mother tongue literacy. There is a strong interdependency between the child’s cognitive development and the development of his/her mother tongue – mother tongue literacy provides a powerful foundation for further cognitive development. Despite this fact, mother tongue skills are not given much attention in Kenyan schools (certainly not in the ones I visited in the regions of Naivasha and Laikipia). In fact, I would go as far as to say that Kenyan schools perceive mother-tongue languages as something that should be replaced by English, as something of little value. This ignores the fact that one’s mother-tongue is the main tool of information processing. We know that children, when they start formal education, bring with them a wealth of linguistic tools and that a good curriculum needs to use them as foundation for further development.

    So, I think we must remember that developing a culture of reading in English does not mean that the culture of reading in one’s mother-tongue or in Kiswahili can be put aside and ignored. I believe that one needs to be built on the foundations laid by the other. I think the goal here should be to develop readers, not readers in English. Children who enjoy reading in their mother tongue are more likely to first tackle, and then also enjoy, reading in English, or any other language they choose to learn, for that matter. Here, however, we encounter another obstacle – the lack of reading materials in many of Kenya’s native languages and, also, in Kiswahili.

    Kenya does have a literary tradition it can be proud of. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, one of Kenya’s greatest writers, writes in his native Gĩkũyũ and Swahili. His recent novel, Wizard of the Crow (2006), was written in Gĩkũyũ. There are, of course, other texts and initiatives that could be explored.

    You rightly observe that “A culture of reading can only truly be fostered when literature is available in a language that tells stories that are relevant to the speakers of that language.” Of course, we must not forget that there exists a rich body of literature in Kenya that was written in English. These texts do tell relevant stories. After all, English is the official language.

    So, I do think that promoting a culture of reading in Kenya needs to involve English. However, as an educator and a researcher, I am worried that mother-tongue literacy is undervalued by the education system. It provides a primary resource for future cognitive development and yet plays a marginal role in the Kenyan education system.

  8. Konrad Glogowski October 10, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    Mosh and Dipesh,

    Thank you for the links and for your comments. I am glad that this blog post has allowed me to connect with people like you, who not only care about literacy in Kenya but also live there (I assume) and can enrich my understanding of the education system and/or reading/writing initiatives in Kenya.

    Mosh, thank you for your offer to help. I will contact you soon by email to discuss options.

    Dipesh, thank you for the link to Storymoja. It looks like a fantastic resource and a great initiative. I also plan to get in touch with you via email to discuss the potential role that Teachers Without Borders – Canada can play in conjunction with this project.


    – Konrad

  9. Konrad Glogowski October 10, 2008 at 2:24 pm #


    Thank you for sharing your story.

    You are right about the role of parents in this equation and also about the lack of affordable reading materials – both are important issues. I think local libraries – like the one you started – could play a crucial role in promoting the culture of reading, both in the mother tongue and in English.

    I hope that as an organization TWB-Canada will be able to raise enough funds to help purchase books for school libraries when we visit Kenya next year. I believe that your experience could be crucial in helping us achieve that goal and, since we seem to have common goals and share the same passion for promoting the culture of reading, I look forward to more conversations with you.

    Thank you for your comment,

    – Konrad

  10. Konrad Glogowski October 10, 2008 at 2:31 pm #


    Thank you for your comment. I have looked at your site and am very interested in your work.

    Your comment below echoes many similar comments that I heard from English teachers in Kenya:

    “The first experience a child in Kenya has with reading is not at home but at school and that is why they are oriented to read to pass exams and not to enhance knowledge or as a leisure activity.”

    I am glad to meet (even if only virtually :-) ), someone who is working to change this. I think there is potential here for collaboration between Storymoja and TWB-Canada. Let’s chat via email.

    – Konrad

  11. Richard Kassissieh October 11, 2008 at 12:55 pm #


    The Botswana Ministry of Education long ago declared English to be the language of social interaction while on the school playground. While the ban on Setswana while at school is morally problematic, it does have the potential to make English the language of social transaction during the school day and thereby broaden its value and practice.


  12. mosh October 14, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    Thanks for the reply, Konrad. I await your email anxiously 😀

  13. Felicia Martin October 16, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    Hello Mr. Glogowski,

    My name is Felicia Martin and I’m the author of “Floetry-flowing like poetry” and collection of Short Stories and Poetry.
    I read your article and I’m very interested in helping Kenya with their book situation.
    I’d like to donate a few of my books, and hopefully I can get some of my local bookstores to do the same, if that’s ok.
    Just let me know what I have to do.

    My Contact Information:

  14. kerry October 25, 2008 at 12:10 am #

    wow… very nice share, thanks!

    by the way.. do you have some videos?? if yes, can you share it? this could be a good bulletin to promote and talk about, as many guys have done here:

    why dont take a part of it, and share your experiences there??? I’m also happy when I know that english become the second/third language that used in Kenya! Make our country become well known and you can go to every place and talk using english… happy, i’m happy about it!

  15. Phil Blackwood November 22, 2008 at 10:26 am #

    Have you found a way to buy books on-line from a Kenyan source so that shipping charges are minimal? I have a friend teaching in Kenya who needs more books! (Stacy Harris in Nairobi)



  16. Barbara Dieu January 7, 2009 at 8:16 pm #

    “A Passage to India by E. M. Forster is a dramatic study of the inability of oral and intuitive oriental culture to meet with the rational, visual European patterns of experience. “Rational,” of course, has for the West long meant “uniform and continuous and sequential.” In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall Mc Luhan.

    Also check:

    What right do we have to continue enforcing our Western perspectives of what is right and wrong, language and systems on different cultures and ways of making meaning?

    The imposition of a foreign language, which is not natural and does not make sense for most, ignoring the context and not valuing the local cultural traditions/ artifacts and denying opportunities for insertion in work and society for the local population are clearly remnants of colonial rules which we should not comply with. They do not empower and further deepen the divide, reinforcing dependency, domination and control.

    Karyn forwards her views it in a more gentle way than I do :-)

  17. Daniel Ferguson January 9, 2009 at 9:26 am #


    What an insightful community you have on your blog. I’ve stumbled on it after reading some of Brian Cambourne’s research on my train ride home, and his theory of language and literacy learning remained in my thoughts while reading your post. Just google his name to find his articles.

    Based on your writing, I would agree with your assessment that the culture of reading in Kenya suffers under the conditions in which it’s being presented to children. I would go even further to say that multilingualism thrives in Kenya under the conditions in which it’s presented. Multilingualism is valued in ways that reading isn’t, and serves meaningful and practical purposes in daily life.

    Cambourne argues that the process of learning oral and written languages are highly similar, given proper conditions (basically that they’re taught in meaningful contexts, which you mention in your post). So while books are certainly a valuable resource for any child, have you thought about encouraging children, parents, teachers, and mentors write their own stories, or dictate traditional stories to print?

    This is certainly not a suggestion to replace collecting books, and I’m mostly thinking about young readers only, but it’s a practice done in classrooms all over the world, and personally one of my favorite activities to do with children: taking their language, putting it into print, and reading it together. It’s simple but I find it very powerful, and touching the root issues that you raise: class-made texts are highly meaningful and relevant, they can be done in any language spoken by the child (if that language has a written form), and they empower children as active participants of literacy.

    Best of luck to you. I look forward to reading more about your work.


  18. Konrad Glogowski January 15, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

    Hi Bee,

    Yes, you’re right, except that what complicates things in Kenya is a commonly-held belief that English is key to success and, therefore, the only language that matters. So, the challenge now is to help educators and policy-makers understand the link between mother tongue development and second language acquisition. They need more resources in early childhood years that are in mother tongue languages … and that, if course, is also a question of money.

  19. Konrad Glogowski January 15, 2009 at 6:28 pm #


    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I am familiar with Cambourne’s work and I agree that encouraging not just teachers but also families to help small children write stories is a very valuable strategy. I do plan to incorporate it into our workshops this August. However, one of the challenges that I foresee is that the Kenyan curriculum is very prescriptive and inflexible, which means that most teachers will resist what is, in their eyes, an unorthodox strategy. Nevertheless, it is an important approach and I hope that, if we prepare well, the response will be very positive.

    Speaking of preparation, could I use some of the pictures and entries from your blog in our workshops? They would help Kenyan teachers visualize this kind of classroom practice. Also, would you be interested in contributing a lesson plan or some other resources to our workshops?

    Looking forward to your response.

    – Konrad

  20. Barbara Dieu January 26, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    “the challenge now is to help educators and policy-makers understand the link between mother tongue development and second language acquisition”

    Definitely, but you may find there is more to it than meets the eye. It’s not only a linguistic problem but a whole culture.
    Some more food for thought:

    In a colonial context education reproduces the power of the colonizers and is designed to serve their needs. The colonizer purposefully ignores the culture and history of subjugated groups nor are they consulted…

  21. Konrad Glogowski January 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm #


    … except that after working with Kenyan teachers and speaking with Kenyan high school students I know that they see English as key to their success (both financial and personal). The problem with the research you cite is that it doesn’t apply to Kenya where young people and adults embrace their culture and their language in their daily lives. Thankfully, Kenya does not embrace the “monolingual, mono-cultural educational model” so common in the United States. It is precisely because they are so in touch with their culture (oral tradition) that reading is not as popular as it is in the West. What the Kenyan education system needs is greater awareness of the connection between the native tongue literacy and English literacy. You cannot ignore the linguistic basis provided by the native tongue when teaching a second language. Literacy in the mother tongue needs to be nurtured too. Unfortunately, lack of access to reading materials in Kiswahili or other languages in Kenya is a serious obstacle to nurturing a culture of reading.

  22. Daniel Ferguson February 15, 2009 at 2:39 am #

    “Speaking of preparation, could I use some of the pictures and entries from your blog in our workshops? They would help Kenyan teachers visualize this kind of classroom practice. Also, would you be interested in contributing a lesson plan or some other resources to our workshops?”

    Feel free to use whatever you like. I’ve also added you to my blog roll, so I hope to keep in touch. Please email me more details about contributing a lesson.


  23. Jane July 6, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    I found this article very interesting and passionate for a worthy cause. After many years of teaching in rural Kenya ,i feel the issues you have addressed. The severe lack of culture of reading bothered me and it is a task i have set to overcome. I am currently in the USA and in the process of setting ways of getting back to those kids and promote reading habits. I have collected books and in the process of creating a team of volunteers to read to the kids.

  24. Tracy July 22, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    Kids are just not as interested in reading as they once were. I know when I was young there was nothing like a new book, but many kids of today do not share that sentiment.
    I too would love to hear other ideas on how to get kids as interested in books as I am.

  25. darastony July 23, 2009 at 4:07 am #

    The people in Africa need to promote not only in reading culture, but also the study culture and how to study and read efficiently. This situation is not only in Kenya, should be promoted to whole Africa.

  26. Stian Haklev August 8, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    Hi Konrad,

    very interesting to read about your thoughts from Kenya. I have been thinking a lot about the issues of literacy and mother tongues, English etc, after my own research in Indonesia and India, and my friend’s research in Uganda. It’s late at night here, but I wanted to leave you a few links, and I’d love to hear more of your thinking on this topic:

    – my BA thesis, about the big community library movement in Indonesia, which is doing amazing things to increase literacy among kids with very little access to books ordinarily
    – my friends MA thesis about community libraries in Uganda, literacy and schooling
    – my classmate’s BA thesis about the rote learning in rural Ghana

    Are you familiar with Brock-Utne’s work on language policy in Africa? “Whose education for all” is great. Also Jim Cummins of course, at OISE, talking about bilingualism and literacy.

    Anyway, just wanted to quickly share those references with you.


  27. Stian Haklev August 8, 2009 at 1:38 am #

    Upz, the thesis on rural Ghana:


  28. Becca Venable November 8, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    I teach remedial reading at the high school level and about 60% of my students are English Language Learners (ELL). It’s fascinating to me to think of my same classroom language issues in a different context. First, I must admit that I’m confused on why the society is pushing English as an educational language. Just a basic Google search provided me the information that English is an “official” language of the country– yet, your observations tell me that this appears to be on paper only. Is the culture dependent upon English-speaking countries for trade? Second, I think we’re seeing this strange move in international education. The importance of the test material instead of the learning. I’m faced with the same reality, my ELL students from predominately Hispanic cultures speak Spanish at home and in the hallways with their friends. However, I am expected to teach and test them in a language that they see of little consequence. At what point do we question the government about their regulations in education? They insist upon this teach-and-test model, but we see that it does not work.

  29. Javier Ogembo May 19, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    What a nice piece of information about learning English as a second language in Kenya. As you can see being a native of Kenya I am still struggling with English writing and some of the issues you have mentioned in the formative stage of learning a language contributed heavily on my ability of learning the language. However, there are some information that you have highlighted about Kenyan education which could be misleading. First, KCPE and KCSE (examination for both primary and secondary education)is not two hour based. In fact for secondary is more than a month. With individual subject based exam having at least two papers. For most countries I have visited I have not seen any difference even in the US, every stage of learning their is exam? or did I miss the concept?

  30. Lucy June 4, 2010 at 1:39 am #


    I found this article very interesting,I am a librarian in one the high schools in Kenya and i have enough experience of what you are talking about.Promoting reading culture in schools is very difficult because of lack of enough reading materials and lack of enough space for student to study.Also most parent don’t encourage they children to read since they don’t know the importance of reading.

    Finance is the key problem i would like to request you to help us we some donors who can provide reading materials to this children

  31. Mangale May 9, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    I think its time we start the Reading Kenya movement where children will learn the reading skills and develop reading habit,then the rest can follow.Lets think together towards this as a reading advocacy may work well to change this image.


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