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  • Writer's pictureDr. Yakama Manty Jones

Did I hear you say ‘Yes’?

Did you know that ………….

§ For half a century, neuroscientists thought the human brain contained 100 billion nerve cells. However, when neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel devised a new way to count brain cells, she came up with a different number — 86 billion?

§ One of the longest words in any of the major English language dictionaries is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica or quartz dust?

§ Une vie pleine et productive est souvent souhaitée par la plupart des gens?

You had to read all of that right? Even the sentence in French! Reading is the foundation for all learning.

According to the World Development Report 2018- Learning to Realise Education’s Promise, “125 million children across the World are not acquiring functional literacy or numeracy, even after spending at least four years in school.” This is also true for children in Sierra Leone. According to the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) done in 2014 by UNICEF, it was estimated that 97% of pupils in class 2 in Sierra Leone, cannot read. This has over the years translated to low examination pass rates. Not that I think exams on their own are the best ways to evaluate learning (a conversation for another day).

What must be done? What can we do? There are several traditional and innovative interventions that we can explore. Nonetheless, positive impact would require consistent collective effort to bring back the reading culture to Sierra Leone and beyond. Children, Parents, Teachers, School Management Committees, Organizations, Communities, leaders, followers, Governments, humans, robots the World, we all have a role to play in increasing the number of children with functional and numeracy skills. Remember, these are the children that we expect to be productive workers in the future. Will you join us in the fight to bring back the reading culture to Sierra Leone? Did I hear you say ‘Yes’?

I founded the Yak Jones Foundation in 2015 to bring back the reading culture to Sierra Leone and change lives. The Foundation was officially launched on Sunday the 1st May 2016 with the theme “Ready….Set….Read” in partnership with Sierra Leonean fashion designer Mary-Ann Kaikai of Madam Wokie .

Ours is a three-step approach:

§ Increasing ‘Access’ to books: (i) Buying or sourcing donations of books and learning materials for needy schools; (ii) Supplying schools with book chests / mobile libraries and solar lamps; and (iii) Supporting the establishment of libraries.

§ Raising ‘Awareness’ about the importance of reading and literacy: (i) Organising reading, comprehension and quiz competitions and (ii) Giving motivational talks focused on the importance of reading.

§ Supporting ‘Learning’ to further build the culture of reading: (i) Setting up Yak Jones Reading Squads (Book Clubs); (ii)Providing schools with reading coaches and (iii) Supporting Teacher training.

With a team of like-minded professionals and a network of well-wishers, we have supported needy schools and libraries across five districts in the country and we continue to expand our reach each year.

Can you guess why we are so passionate about bringing back the culture of reading to Sierra Leone and beyond? Well, as a foundation skill, we believe that reading especially when combined with healthy living:

§ Stimulates the mind and strengthens the brain;

§ Increases your knowledge base and serves as a great source of motivation;

§ Expands your vocabulary and improves your communication skills;

§ Drives creativity and broadens your imagination;

§ Improves your memory, focus and concentration;

§ Builds stronger analytical skills;

§ Reduces stress and improves your emotional health.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 786 million children in developing countries, are likely to experience more significant losses of learning. Existing inequalities, with girls and disadvantaged children, will also worsen. The Government and partners, notably the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the World Bank and UNICEF, are supporting continuous learning during COVID-19. As a Foundation, we partnered with JNAP Ventures to launch an Online Book Club. We are currently running five books clubs for different ages. Will you join us in the fight to bring back the reading culture to Sierra Leone? Did I hear you say ‘Yes’?

You may be aware that even before COVID-19, the World was faced with a learning crisis. According to the World Bank, data has revealed that “While countries have significantly increased access to education, being in school isn’t the same thing as learning”.

THE NAME OF THE DOG IS PUPPY. This seems like a simple sentence. However, seventy-five per cent (75%) of third-grade students in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda do not understand it. The fundamental problem, in this case, is the lack of functional literacy skills. We should make learning to read fun again. Yes, we can learn through play too!

I am sure that over the years, you have heard a lot about Human Capital Development (HCD) and even more often in recent times. HCD is one of the priorities of the Government of Sierra Leone. In fact, Sierra Leone is one of the Early Adopter Countries of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project (HCP) for which I serve as the Focal Point (Human Capital Focal Points are key individuals in governments around the world who help move the human capital agenda forward) in Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS Commission is also leading the development of a regional HCD strategy. Nationally, His Excellency the President, Julius Maada Bio has endorsed a medium-term literacy target as part of His Flagship HCD Portfolio: “At least double the number of boys and girls with functional literacy and numeracy skills in primary schools”. Together we can achieve this.

At the Yak Jones Foundation, our long-term vision for Sierra Leone includes:

§ A country with libraries in as many institutions as possible;

§ A network of Reading Coaches supporting the development of literacy and reading skills across the country;

§ A generation of avid readers empowered to become more critical and independent thinkers; and

§ A Nation with increased potential to develop the productivity of a ‘future worker’.

Our immediate goals are to source and distribute a 20ft shipping container worth of books every two years and train 100 reading coaches annually to improve literacy skills for at least 1000 kids. This excludes the reach of our planned Radio Reading programme and other literacy promoting activities. As we work to complement the interventions of the Government, we remain open to collaborating with national and international organisations, including the private sector who share our interest in bringing back the reading culture to Sierra Leone and promoting literacy globally.

We duff our hats to other non-governmental organisations and individuals who are also making a difference in the literacy space – Sierra Leone Writers Series, The Learning Foundation, Peagie Woobay Scholarship Fund, Children’s Education Foundation, Edu Aid, World Vision, Purposeful Production (Karo Kura Connection), Dr. Fatu Forna-Sesay; Aminata Jalloh, Ishmael Beah, Aminatta Forna, Joseph Kaifala and many more.

The essential skill required for learning science, math, coding, programming, engineering etc., is reading. It is indeed the foundation for all learning. We need all hands on deck to win this learning revolution. Being in school is not the same as learning. Will you join us to bring back the reading culture to Sierra Leone? Did I hear you say ‘Yes’?


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