How It All Started...

Jody Unterrheiner and Akello Catherine met at Layibi Techo Primary School in Gulu, Uganda in 2013. Both women were asked to teach in upper primary but it didn’t take long for them to realize it was incredibly difficult to achieve any learning in their classrooms because most their pupils, late into their primary education, were struggling to read basic text. Catherine and Jody started to collaborate teaching remedial phonics lessons to older pupils.

One pupil in the last year of his primary schooling couldn’t read a single word but after learning phonics he began to piece together sounds to read more and more words. He is now in his fourth year of secondary school!

Teacher Jody and Teacher Catherine working with pupils for MEGA FM classroom

Teacher Jody and Teacher Catherine working with pupils for MEGA FM classroom

The number of pupils struggling to read was so many Jody and Catherine decided to focus their efforts on the earliest year of school teaching phonics together in primary one. Soon their primary one class could read better than many of the pupils in the later grades.

It was evident that Layibi Techo wasn’t alone in its struggles with pupils reading and writing levels. Across Uganda 70% of children never finish primary school largely due to the poor quality of instruction and Uganda has one of the youngest countries in the world with half of the country’s population under the age of 15. That is a lot of children not learning to read and a lot of children not finishing school. 

We started to ask ourselves: "What impact could be made if there was a phonics curriculum made for Ugandan classrooms? What if all early grade teachers were trained in phonics instruction? What if phonics was consistently taught well in the beginning of primary school? How would education in Uganda change if all pupils had a foundation of strong literacy skills?"

So, Jody wrote a first draft of a phonics curriculum manual that combined international literacy methodologies with themes and vocabulary that were relevant for Ugandan children. And, with Catherine, started arranging phonics trainings for primary teachers across Gulu.

To meet the increasing demand for literacy instruction training and support, Jody founded READ for Life with a staff of two talented Ugandan teachers and several Peace Corps volunteers. We are continuing to grow and have trained the teachers of over 50 primary schools in Gulu municipality.

We will continue our partnerships with Ugandan schools until all early primary teachers are trained in best literacy instruction practices and all Ugandan schools can nurture strong readers and writers.