Teaching methodology to support foundational learning in Africa

Author(s): Abadzi, Helen

Organisation(s): Global Education Monitoring Report Team

Publisher(s): UNESCO

Date: 2022

Pages: 24 p.

Serie: Background paper prepared for the Global Education Monitoring Report 2022 spotlight on basic education completion and foundational learning in Africa

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Foundational skills, such as reading, writing, using language and doing daily math are prerequisite to complex cognition and critical thinking. Whenever needed, they must be executed instantly, effortlessly, and simultaneously with other tasks. Effortless execution is crucial because our working memory holds very few items, and it must be dedicated to solve the problems of daily life. Low-income populations often delay in attaining fluency in basic skills or fail altogether. One reason is limited insights on how to teach foundational skills most efficiently. These are best learned in small increments with systematic pattern analogies that use the predictive capacity of the brain. Practice speeds up identification and gradually makes the retrieval effortless and unconscious. For reading this means letter-by-letter decoding, until a brain region is activated that recognizes words as if they were faces and enables simultaneous reading of multiple letters. For math, practice with the numbers line enables fast conceptualization of magnitudes and how they change in various operations. Larger size and spacing of reading and math symbols facilitate identification. Decisionmakers may find these teaching methods traditional or mechanical, so curricula tend to neglect systematic practice in favor of meaningful and creative activities. Textbooks are indispensable, and they should be developed to enhance perceptual learning, offer pattern analogies, and have sufficient practice amounts to promote automaticity. To focus on the activities most relevant to fluency, structured pedagogy is important. Teachers may be given “scripted lessons” to follow, that establish routines which students learn to expect. These methods have been piloted in several programs of lower-income countries, and have given much better results than other methods. Though the methods appear traditional or mechanistic, they are crucial for attaining more complex skills.

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