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UNESCO International Literacy Day – CATALYZE EduFinance DRC phonics training builds a strong foundation



Caption: An Education Specialist visit

The low-cost private sector has undergone rapid expansion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)  due to factors such as population growth, increased enrollment, and parental aspirations for quality education. Opportunity International estimates that registered private schools in the country represent about 21% of the market, with much higher rates in Kinshasa, where two out of three schools are private. The USAID CATALYZE EduFinance DRC program— which aims to enhance access to quality education by training school leaders and teachers in affordable non-state schools— has been a key player in this development.

International Literacy Day (ILD) on September 8th provides the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate these achievements.  As we celebrate the 2023 theme— promoting literacy for a world in transition and building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies— we examine the impact of phonics trainings, delivered as part of EduFinance Teacher Mentor Professional Development, for both teachers and the wider education system in DRC.

Phonics establish the connection between letters and their corresponding sounds, and serve as a foundational skill for reading. By helping learners to understand the relationship between written letters and spoken sounds, phonics instruction lays the groundwork for proficient reading. Phonics is a widely used and proven method for building literacy skills among learners, and is a key tool used by the CATALYZE Education Specialists team within DRC schools. As a result of successful ongoing phonics trainings facilitated with teacher mentors in the CATALYZE EduFinance DRC program at non-state schools, the EduSpecialist team had the recent opportunity to lead a bespoke workshop with Education Inspectors in the DRC, sharing some of the key phonics training content benefiting non-state teachers.


“This is all in the interest of a better education for the children.” – Partner School Leader in the DRC

Teachers selected by their school leaders for the role of “teacher mentor” attend TMPD sessions within their clusters. The teacher mentors transfer knowledge through these trainings and become mentors to fellow teachers.                     

The TMPD trainings split the topic of phonics into three sessions throughout the second year of their program. This ensures that enough detail is given to the teaching sequences and teachers have appropriate pedagogic tools to deliver phonics classes to pupils.                      

Many teacher mentors report having never received specific training on phonics before the CATALYZE EduFinance DRC activity, and have relished the opportunity to learn about phonics teaching in detail, while practicing their skills in a supportive environment.


Caption: TMPD Training Session


The three Phonics Best Practice modules are sequenced to develop teacher mentors’ capacity in phonics instruction, which will support them to move towards independently writing lesson plans using phonics best practices:

Phonics Best Practices 1

The first module takes a systematic and interactive approach to phonics, with detailed content delivered on Chalkboard, EduFinance’s digital platform. The session focuses on the sound of letters and covers terminologies in language and literacy. Videos of correct pronunciations and real-life examples have also been recorded to benefit mentors. 

Phonics Best Practices 2

The second module focuses on what beginner readers should be taught, using the teaching sequence for phonics, the purpose of each part of the teaching sequence, and how to teach non-decodable words. Teacher mentors are encouraged to write a lesson plan for teaching the sound ‘th’ and ‘sh’ to their peer teachers. The overall aim is to equip teachers with strategies for ‘blending to read’.

Phonics Best Practices 3

The third module focuses on the terminology associated with phonics. This includes the correct pronunciation of sounds, blending and segmenting, identifying sounds in words, and progression in learning phonics. Teacher mentors are strongly encouraged to write lesson plans that directly impact the learners at their school.


 Caption: A teacher in a DRC TMPD session

“It's difficult to talk about just one of the contributions [of CATALYZE EduFinance], because as a young school, we wanted to capitalize on this opportunity.” – Partner School Leader in the DRC


In the DRC, the CATALYZE EduFinance phonics training is conducted in French and Lingala, languages widely spoken in Kinshasa. The training curriculum covered several key aspects:

  • Learning letter names and sounds in both French and Lingala.
  • Understanding syllable formation in French and Lingala.
  • Understanding the process and method behind conducting a reading lesson.
  • Embracing effective reading strategies such as 'letter pointing,' 'stretch the sound,' and 'clap.'
  • Crafting teaching aids like letter strips and sound posters to support reading proficiency.


The special requested 3-day training engaged 25 participants, who are all currently serving as school Inspectors. In the DRC, Inspectors play a vital role in assessing teachers within their local jurisdiction and facilitating their professional development. The inspector model aims to bolster language proficiency and fluency among educators by focusing on phonetics. The model’s strategic focus on Inspectors is intentional; they are positioned to circulate the training to teachers under their supervision. In a similar way to how the CATALYZE EduFinance TMPD sessions train selected teachers to observe and mentor their colleagues, the Inspector Training used the same approach to enable Inspectors to mentor and support teachers’ development.

Eric Kabitshwa Yama, Senior Education Specialist explained, “We use strategies with the Inspectors from our [CATALYZE] program, focusing on how they can make the quality of lessons better.”

The training methodology followed a three-tiered approach:

  • Observation: Trainers demonstrated reading models, encouraging participants to observe keenly.
  • Identification: Strategies were discussed, and participants compared them with existing classroom practices to understand the advantages of the new approach.
  • Action: Participants prepared group demonstrations, which were critiqued for improvement.

Caption: Inspector Training Session

In the DRC's educational landscape, Inspectors have a dual role — assessing teachers and fostering their professional growth. However, the emphasis leans heavily on assessment, often leaving teacher development sidelined. This training aimed to bridge the gap by equipping Inspectors with skills to deliver effective reading lessons through phonics and promote teacher development.

The post-training assessment with Inspectors revealed several notable outcomes:

  • Enhanced Language Proficiency: Inspectors gained a better grasp of letter names and sounds in French and Lingala, enabling them to make strides in correct pronunciation.
  • Innovative Pedagogy: Inspectors adopted the 'turn-and-talk' method, encouraging collaborative learning among students.
  • Effective Reading Strategies: Inspectors embraced practical strategies like 'stretch the sound,' 'point to the letters,' and 'clap' to enhance reading lessons.
  • Empowered Pedagogy: Proficiency in using 'learning-to-read' documents was a highlight, allowing Inspectors to better assist teachers.

Within the complex landscape of DRC's education sector, governmental reading programs often struggle to find effective implementation in classrooms. This training equips Inspectors with the tools to bridge this gap, ensuring effective program execution and teacher training. This initiative offers a pragmatic approach to leveraging strategies and materials, ensuring that educational directives are not just understood but effectively translated into classroom success.

This training was a success in our eyes and was broadcast across the educational sphere. And after this, we received many calls from other educational authorities to support this training in different areas in Kinshasa.” —Eric Kabitshwa Yama

Teacher feedback on ways they are applying the phonics training in their classroom is an early indication of positive changes to the way learners are taught to read. Teachers and Inspectors are their enhancing language skills and refining teaching techniques, marking a pivotal advancement in their roles. The program's innovative approach has been met with enthusiasm, with participants expressing profound appreciation for the methods introduced.


Caption: Inspector Training Session

Directly in line with this year’s UNESCO Literacy Day theme, CATALYZE EduFinance DRC is enabling teacher training in phonics both through TMPD and Inspector Training which equips a wide range of education professionals to ‘build a foundation’ for teaching future literacy skills. CATALYZE EduFinance DRC is grateful to lead these collaborations with non-state school partners and Inspectors, focused on bridging the divide between educational policies and practical classroom instruction, highlighting the role of well-prepared educators in shaping a promising educational landscape for the nation's children and youth.

About CATALYZE EduFinance   

CATALYZE EduFinance (September 2019–2027) uses a blended finance approach to test models that improve and sustain learning outcomes for children and youth globally, particularly those most vulnerable. CATALYZE pilots multiple models in 14 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia regions, supporting local education stakeholders in state and non-state education in early childhood development and early childhood care and education; primary and secondary education; technical and vocational education and workforce development; and improving enabling environments. Pilot activities implemented by EduFinance are complemented by a global community of practice, the Education Finance Network.  

This report was made possible through support provided by the Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation, Private Sector Engagement (PSE) Hub and Center for Education, U.S. Agency for International Development, under the terms of Contract No. 7200AA19-C00080. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development.  





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