Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa, and is the most biologically diverse country in East Africa. It is also the second youngest country in the world, with over 50% of the population under the age of 14.
Our vision is that African citizens have the opportunity to read, write, and engage with ideas in all the languages they use in their daily lives.
Mango Tree Educational Enterprises was founded by a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Craig Esbeck, who served in Uganda from 1997-1999. When Peace Corps Uganda abruptly suspended its program due to perceived insecurity, Craig decided to stay on and start a small business that would cater to the needs of Ugandan teachers. As a PCV, Craig had seen first-hand the needs of rural Ugandan teachers and developed a series of educational tools to help them teach more effectively.
The company began in the small village where Craig had been a volunteer, with one tailor and one artist. All of the educational materials were made from local materials, such as grain sacks, recycled slippers, and bottle tops. They were designed to be used with the national curriculum and were durable and inexpensive. Craig offered the learning tools to schools along with a one-day workshop so that teachers would understand how to utilize them effectively in the classroom.
Over the years the company grew and expanded. In 2001 the company set up a small office in Kampala. In 2004, the sole proprietorship became a private limited company with shares distributed among the ten original employees. By 2006, the company had grown to a staff of over 30 employees. In 2007, Craig stepped down as director so that someone with more business expertise could run the day-to-day operations.
With more time to focus on educational innovations again, Craig was determined to address a major educational challenge in the primary sector: local language instruction. In 2005, the Government of Uganda had made a major policy change in its early primary curriculum. They determined that from grades 1-3, pupils should learn in their home language, including learning to read and write. With more than 40 languages commonly spoken in Uganda, this became a significant challenge for the Ministry of Education. Craig supported the policy and wanted it to succeed. He’d also learned of an early literacy model developed by Robin Rempel of SIL, called the Multi-Strategy Economy Model, that he believed would work well in Uganda.
It took two years, but in 2009 funding was finally secured and a pilot project began in the Lango Sub-region of Northern Uganda to pilot Rempel’s model in grades 1-3. At the end of the first 3-year pilot, the Hewlett Foundation, one of the funders, requested an external evaluation of the project’s impact. Based on the data from that evaluation, funding was secured for a second, scaled-up Randomized Control Trial pilot for the years 2014 to 2016.
The results of the Randomized Control Trial pilot, called the Northern Uganda Literacy Program (NULP), indicated that Mango Tree’s literacy model had a greater impact on pupil performance than any other literacy initiative ever studied by an RCT internationally. More information, including links to academic papers that have featured the RCT, can be found on our Research page. In 2018, MTLL won the United States Library of Congress Best Literacy Practice Award for its work in Northern Uganda.
In 2012, USAID began a seven-year project led by RTI and SIL to develop a national literacy model for grades 1-4 in twelve local languages, including Leblango, the language for the Lango Sub-region. Mango Tree staff provided consultation services for that project. In 2017, Mango Tree put aside its own literacy model and instead devoted its expertise to ensuring that the government’s literacy model succeeds. We are currently training about 240 P1 and P2 teachers in seven districts to be experts in the National Literacy Model so that they can become Teacher Mentors and provide support to other teachers regionally.
In 2018, Mango Tree Literacy Lab was born. It is a registered Ugandan non-profit organization. It continues to have ties to Mango Tree Educational Enterprises, the instructional design company based in Kampala, but has its own mission, vision and board of directors. We have found a home in the Lango Sub-region and want to continue to use this area as our laboratory to innovate and experiment around the many issues and challenges of creating a culture of literacy in African languages. Our intention is to share what we are learning with the wider community of African educators working in this field to build a body of evidence for protecting, preserving and growing literacy in African languages.