A first-grader in Ghana learns to write and read her own name. That’s the beginning of literacy.
In Mali, a teacher writes a story about a grandfather and his motor scooter for students to read and share. That’s the beginning of a classroom library.
A school in Indonesia shares materials with parents to read with their children, and reading skills blossom. That’s the beginning of possibilities.
For children growing up in countries where resources are scarce, learning to read and write “allows them to participate more fully in society and to access better jobs,” says EDC literacy expert Norma Evans. “In communities with limited access to print, reading has limited importance in people’s lives. If we want children to read, we need to get reading materials into the schools and the homes.”
Research shows an important link between school-based and home-based language learning activities: parents. When parents are invited to read non-textbook materials together with their children, reading becomes more than rote schoolwork. Ideas come alive, stories catch fire, and literacy thrives.
For example, EDC carried out a pilot program in Ghana to build community support for reading by encouraging parents’ interest in their children’s skills. The Culture of Reading program promoted daily family reading—including materials brought home from school and Bible passages. Parents who reported reading with their children increased from 42 to 70 percent during the program.
When communities recognize positive changes in their schools, they also see their children’s lives—and their lives—changing for the better.
In Indonesia, students bring home non-textbook reading materials and journals that teachers have prepared for them, as part of USAID’s Decentralized Basic Education Program Objective 2 (DBE 2), administered by EDC and its partners. Parents are encouraged to read the books their children bring home and together write in the journals.
EDC’s Yekti Indarti says for genuine literacy learning to take root and grow, it’s important for children and parents to experience non-textbook reading materials together: “Students in Indonesia need to be exposed to a variety of reading materials, such as storybooks, children’s encyclopedias, and reference books.” A book donation program supplied the materials.
“We provided supplemental reading materials directly in grade 1–3 classrooms, where teachers could create a reading corner/classroom library,” says Indarti. “Books with short sentences, colorful illustrations, and simple stories were selected to match children’s interests and learning needs.”
As of July 2010, the program had reached more than 1,067 Indonesian schools and 113 resource centers, distributing 662,800 non-textbook reading materials.
“We encourage teachers to allow students to bring the books home for reading with parents and family members,” Indarti says. Parents surveyed reported spending more time reading and discussing books with children, and 99 percent agreed reading together supports students’ in-school learning.
In the Philippines, improved literacy teaching and learning is supported through an innovative supplementary books delivery program where teachers get to choose the books their students need. It’s part of USAID’s Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) program in Mindanao, managed and implemented by EDC and partners.
“Creating a ‘culture of reading’ means that teachers and students look at reading not just as an academic exercise but as something that can be done for fun and leisure,” says EDC’s Yvette Tan.
The program has encountered some challenges. One was a perception among teachers that donated books should be kept in pristine condition on book shelves—sometimes behind locked library doors. The other was that books were not always at the right reading level, frustrating readers. Through EQuALLS2, age-appropriate books were put into classrooms and the hands of children to share with their families, and the Whole School Reading Program was developed to train all teachers in effective reading and writing instruction.
Reading scores and comprehension levels improved, and student frustration decreased. The model program may now be scaled up and adapted in other countries where EDC works.
“Literacy is social and economic currency,” says Evans. Parents reading together with their children “provides community members with access to information that cannot be accessed through other mediums. It allows them to connect with the larger global community.”
Originally published on October 25, 2011