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Discovering More About Early Grade Reading Material Availability in Sub-Saharan Africa

What Materials Are Currently Available in the Market That Help Teach Students How to Read?


Citizens of the United States are familiar with large libraries that are within or near elementary schools that offer plenty of reading materials for students and quiet spots so they can enjoy those books. Unfortunately, this scene is not often found in schools throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The variety of books that are available to students in Africa is very limited compared with the abundance of materials available every day to students in the United States. Even if a school in Africa has some books, the materials may not be in the same language as a child speaks in his or her home. 

To build our understanding of how many and what types of early grade reading (EGR) materials are available in subSaharan Africa, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded a study to create an inventory tool and approach to collect data about reading materials. The researchers used this approach to conduct a detailed inventory of available EGR materials in 11 sub-Saharan African countries. These countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The findings from this inventory will contribute to the Global Digital Library, an initiative of the Global Book Alliance,[1] and will help provide reliable information about the availability and quality of the current supply.  

Throughout a one-month period in early 2015, researchers collected 5,919 titles in 200 different African languages across 11 countries, and then categorized a range of kindergarten through Primary Grade 3 materials as textbooks or as supplementary reading materials. Textbooks included teacher’s manuals and students’ textbooks and workbooks. Supplemental reading materials included narratives, informational or nonfiction books, and reference books. After this broad categorization, the researchers evaluated several other aspects to gain a better understanding of the quality and appropriateness of the individual titles. 

The inventory focused on four main topics and provided insight regarding the availability, appropriateness, and overall landscape of EGR materials in sub-Saharan Africa. The four topics are listed and further described as follows. 

Availability of EGR Materials in African Languages

There are many contributing factors to the frequency with which materials were found in the various African languages. Some of these factors include speaker population size, political status of a language, special interests from faith-based or nonprofit organizations, the official language in education policy, and the degree of implementation of this policy. When combined, all of these factors created a sometimes unexpected number of titles in specific languages, while leaving some languages with very few titles. 

When evaluating the type of materials, supplementary reading materials were more common than textbooks at a three to two ratio, with narrative texts being the most common type of supplementary material. The survey found only one informational text for every six narrative texts. Student reading textbooks were more common than workbooks or teacher’s manuals, at nearly a four to one ratio. The exact proportions varied from country to country.

Usefulness of Available Materials for EGR Development

The researchers deemed that the materials found in this survey were appropriate overall and were useful for supporting EGR skills. The textbook-related materials frequently used reading passages and vocabulary development to develop EGR skills, and less than half of titles used a phonics approach. Many of the locally produced materials were able to connect with the target audience by providing familiar and culturally relevant content. However, there are considerably fewer titles for the early stages of reading development than for more advanced levels. 

Feasibility of Reusing, Adapting, and Reproducing Available Titles

Standard labeling regarding copyright or permissions for adaptation and reproduction was generally lacking across the materials surveyed, and the use of Creative Commons licenses was not a widespread practice. The non-uniformity of copyright procedures across countries could lead to challenges when attempting to compile a Global Reading Repository and when attempting to navigate the legislation that comes with being permitted to reproduce or adapt someone else’s work. 

Landscape of the Production of Student’s Reading Materials in African Languages 

Commercial publishers and nonprofit organizations are the leading producers of EGR materials, producing a combined 74 percent of the titles surveyed. Most of the titles had been published since 2000, and 45 percent of the titles had been published from 2010 through 2015. 

Although the study was not an exhaustive inventory of every EGR material available in subSaharan Africa, this survey did provide important data about what types of materials are available and what gaps currently exist. Even though materials are available in a wide range of languages, important gaps still exist in the supply for teacher’s manuals and informational (nonfiction) supplementary readers. Strengthening the capacity of local authors and publishers to develop additional materials that cater to varied reading levels through text difficulty and leveling would benefit the wider market.

Although a significant number of titles were accessible and available to the researchers for the inventory, encouraging and increasing access to these materials for all children remains a priority. Even the act of implementing this survey may have helped set some ideas in motion for increasing the supply of high-quality, easy-access EGR materials in African languages. 

More detailed results and analyses can be found on a country-by-country basis at the following link:

[1] More information about the Global Book Alliance is available at