Improving literacy through competition

Fred Parku
Teacher Support Coordinator
June 12, 2019

Over the years, Pencils of Promise (PoP) has been at the forefront of improving literacy and learning outcomes of students in the Volta and Oti regions of Ghana through our Teacher Support program, which is currently in 78 schools across the length and breadth of the regions.

We aim to create engaging and interactive classrooms with our activity-based strategies, which are taught at training workshops held three times per school year (i.e., once per term). Through this program, we seek to inculcate the habit of reading into students as the ultimate purpose is to enhance the culture of learning. While we have done this and so much more over the past five years, as the old saying goes, ‘there is always room for improvement’.

Photo credit: Timmy Shivers
Photo description: Group of primary school children in Ghana smiling and laughing

We have realized that if students have adequate reading time and age-appropriate reading materials, they are more likely to develop their literacy faster and become fluent readers. So, how do we get schools to commit more time to reading? What about creating interest through competition?

Our team organized a literacy competition to generate more interest and commitment to reading, and schools quickly became excited. The schools were immediately more motivated to dedicate more time to reading in their school in order to win the competition. In 2016, we began our own literacy competition with 11 schools, with the aim of bringing schools in our Teacher Support program together to compete in a healthy manner. There were three rounds and each school was represented by four contestants, made up of students from grade 3 to grade 6. The first round was Reading Aloud, where each contestant read to the audience and were scored according to prosody, accuracy and fluency. The second round was the Listening Comprehension round, in which students were asked a series of questions after a passage was read to them. The final round was divided into two parts: Word Search and Word Formation, and Spelling and Dictation. This inaugural event in 2016 saw four schools competing at the finals, with Hohoe Presby emerging winners.

Photo credit: Fred Parku
Photo description: Students from a PoP supported school in Ghana participate in the Literacy Competition

During this first year of competition, we found that as schools were committing more time and resources to reading, they were not only preparing for a competition but were also creating and promoting positive reading habits in students and inspiring other students.

“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

Kofi Annan

The 2017 Literacy Competition saw a much larger contest, with 28 schools, but Hohoe Presby still emerged victorious. During the 2017 competition, the team realized that we needed to increase the depth of competition. We observed that most other schools were not preparing well enough for the competition, resulting in a huge gap between them and Hohoe Presby. We wanted to leverage the vehicle of the new competition to ensure the schools were helping their students develop a habit of reading. Therefore, during the following school year (2018), we asked teachers to assign books on the e-readers to students during weekends and check in with these students to be sure they were reading at home, and at workshops we taught them how to do student-teacher check-ins.

Photo credit: Timmy Shivers
Photo description: A primary student sits at his desk with open books in front of him while looking and listening to the teacher (other students sit at their desks in the background)

This year’s (2018-2019) competition has shown that it is good to have a healthy competition to challenge schools to do more – ensuring reading clubs work, observing library time and assigning books to pupils to read during weekends. Thirty-eight Teacher Support schools were invited to partake in this year’s literacy competition with 114 students participating, involving three stages: Zonal, Super Zonal, and the Finals. Each stage follows the same format, as described earlier. During the Zonal stage, schools were grouped into eight zones. Schools with the highest scores at the end of each Zonal competition, along with the first runners ups, proceeded to the next stage of the competition: the Super Zonals.

During the Super Zonals stage, 13 schools competed in three different zones: Northern, Central and Southern. There were seven rounds at the Super Zonal stage (up from four in the Zonal competitions):

Example riddle: I am a story element, I usually refer to the geographical location, social conditions, weather or historical periods relevant to the story. What am I?

*Note: answer provided later in article


  • For the Northern zone, we had the following schools competing for a slot at the finals: Leklebi Duga District Authority (D/A), Kpando Agudzi, Tsibu EP and Sovie Kudzra D/A all competed. The Northern zone was won by Leklebi Duga D/A
  • The Central zone was made up of five schools: Akpokope D/A, Adaklu Sofa D/A, Avatime Dzogbefeme EP, Ziavi EP and Adedome D/A. The contest was won by Akpokope D/A.
  • Finally the Southern, made of four schools: Have Glime D/A, Mafi Wudukpo D/A, Agbakope RC and Amelorkope RC. Mafi Wudukpo took the contest.
  • The finals of this year’s Literacy Competition would see these three schools competing for the bragging rights.

Throughout the years in developing these series of competitions, we have learned valuable lessons that have sparked new ideas as to how we can ensure that even as schools prepare candidates or competitors for literacy competitions, the struggling students are not left behind. For example, we have started with the establishment of reading clubs in schools, which would include all students from Primary 1 to Primary 6. The reading clubs have dedicated periods during the week during which they meet, where the teacher can give greater attention to the students who need more support (Student Teacher check-in), while more confident students can read independently in groups and discuss books they are reading. It is the hope of the team that these clubs will greatly help to both inculcate a reading culture within the students, as well as providing additional dedicated reading time, and that due to this, the literacy rates in our partner schools will increase at an even greater pace.

PoP is forever committed to providing a quality education experience to all children and my team here in Ghana is proud of the progress we’re making and the innovative approaches we are taking.

“There is only one standard – a global standard. Be consistent, operate at 100% every single time you’re given an opportunity.”

Komla Dumor

Answer to the riddle: Settings

About the author:

Hi! My name is Fred and I am a Teacher Support Coordinator at Pencils of Promise. My role as a Teacher Support Coordinator is to train teachers on new and innovative methods of teaching literacy. Thereafter, I visit them in their classrooms and help them implement the new methods they have learned, through observations or modeling and feedback sessions. My favorite part of being a Teacher Support Coordinator are the school visits and coaching. Everytime I sit behind in the classroom to observe and see students actively engaged in the lesson, with jaunty smiles on their faces, I could not ask for more. This reassures me that school is a place where they always want to be. They learn and have fun.

Photo credit: Fred Parku
Photo description: Fred (the author) takes a picture of himself smiling with a group of primary students, who are all smiling.