Homing in: mothers at the heart of health and literacy in coastal Kenya Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Mount-Cors, Mary Faith
    • Affiliation: School of Education
  • An economics-driven discourse about early literacy in sub-Saharan African settings often includes a list of reasons for poor levels of literacy that remain mired in deficit thinking or a deficiencies model in which the problem lies within the non-literate people themselves. Meanwhile, the established post-colonial educational structure is held largely blameless and unexamined. This study includes a critical inquiry into literacy education that takes into account constraints to literacy such as health; an engagement with mothers as the primary caregivers and literacy models for their children; and guidelines for developing literacy interventions that move beyond entrenched modes of thought to promote additive approaches to forming literacy. This study makes contributions to literatures at the intersection of discipline areas critical to literacy, health and development in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world, including development theory, sociolinguistics, reading research, cultural anthropology, cultural psychology, feminist theory, social epidemiology, and research methodology. In this mixed methods study, quantitative reading data from 800 second graders in 40 schools from the U.S.-funded Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) in coastal Kenya were analyzed, then qualitative data were collected and analyzed by the researcher from mothers in three EGRA treatment schools. Mothers of second grade students involved in the quantitative portion of the study in coastal Kenya talked with researchers in focus groups and provided demographic data in one-on-one interviews. Interviews were also conducted with the head teacher at each research site and with local education partners. The disjunctures found between mothers' realities and development discourses resulted in a foundational critique of the best practices and evidence-based wave of development approaches. Three simple findings from the quantitative and qualitative phases of research came together to support one another and led to theory- and model-building. EGRA reading growth was linked to commonly considered socioeconomic status variables, which were unpacked in the qualitative portion of the research. Reading items, such as letter-sound recognition, which showed growth, suggested the value of the transfer of home language literacy to school literacy learning in the context of Kiswahili and Kigiriama. The disconnection between the two showed up in the qualitative portion of the study. Mothers' responses informed these salient factors from the EGRA data by demonstrating that health is deeply embedded in the home, that health affects literacy learning at school, and that the same environmentally situated drivers affect both health and literacy. Results reinforced the close relationship between adult literacy and child literacy, and particularly the need to work with mothers when aiming to improve child literacy. Home and school literacies need to be connected so that reading can become an indigenous process. Health improvements were also linked to literacy becoming an indigenous process.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Education."
  • Marshall, Catherine
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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