Can you remember learning to read? What was it like? Did you have someone read to you? Did you have a favorite book? A favorite teacher who helped you? Many of us look back on this time of our childhood with fond memories, and don’t know what was happening in our brains when we were learning to read.
Contrary to popular belief, learning to read is NOT something that happens automatically. In fact, when we learn to read, we are literally rewiring our brains. To do this, we must have good teachers, books that interest us, and lots of practice in school and at home.
Why is reading so important? Because it is foundational for all other learning. Early grade reading is critical for retention and success in future grades. Children who are poor readers at the end of first grade almost never acquire average-level reading skills by the end of primary school. Children who do not attain literacy skills, including reading and writing, by third grade struggle to catch up in future years. According to UNESCO, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills. That’s nearly a 12% cut in global poverty.
A Learning Crisis
Unfortunately, not all children have access to quality teaching and books in order to acquire these foundational skills. In fact, many children around the world go through school without learning to read. Approximately 387 million children of primary school age are unable to read proficiently. Of those, only 262 million are in school.
This is a learning crisis. Low levels of learning disproportionately affect children from poor households. This has lifelong effects on individuals, but also contributes to the downward spiral of poverty in communities. FH’s pilot program, entitled “Let’s Learn to Read” is doing something about this.
Improving Skills with Let’s Learn to Read Program
Let’s Learn to Read is a teacher training program that builds teacher capacity in reading instruction for children in grades 1-3. Earlier this year, the FH Burundi team piloted this program. From January to June 2021, FH staff worked with the Ministry of Education to support ongoing training and mentoring of teachers with regular classroom visits, and with text message communications to maintain that support.
In these trainings, teachers heard about how children learn to read, and practiced the most effective ways to teach reading in the early grades. They also learned how to make simple, low-cost teaching aids from materials that can be found in the local community to support reading development in their classrooms.
Early Results Show Promise
This pilot project has yielded fruitful results. Primary School Principal Cédar Sengoro, in Muhuzu, listened to Let’s Learn to Read third graders read aloud. Their skill level was so high, he wondered if they weren’t really reading, but instead had memorized the passages. “I had to give them another text of my choice, because I did not believe what I was hearing!” said the principal. He reported that the third graders’ reading was “far better than that of our secondary school students.”
FH conducted a study to determine the impact of this program on child literacy skills. The study showed that more children gained critical reading skills in Let’s Learn to Read schools than in comparison schools (where teachers were not trained). 14% more children in first grade were able to read frequently used words, and 13 % more children in 2nd grade were able to read simple sentences.
In a culture where girls’ education is often a challenge, results showed that Let’s Learn to Read made a difference for girls as well as boys. In Let’s Learn to Read schools, the increase in the proportion of children who could read frequently used words was 21% for girls, and 26% for boys, compared to only 9% for girls and 10% for boys in schools that did not receive Let’s Learn to Read. The increase in the proportion of children who could read simple complete sentences in Let’s Learn to Read schools was 22% for girls and 26% for boys, compared to only 14% for girls and 6% for boys in schools that did not receive Let’s Learn to Read.
Expanding Let’s Learn to Read
What’s next? FH Burundi plans to scale up this project to other geographic areas this year, impacting even more teachers and children. FH also plans to scale up the project to other countries in FY22.
How can you help?
- Giving story books, textbooks and other resources through the gift catalog to provide an education to a child in poverty.
- Pray for the success of Let’s Learn to Read in Burundi and other countries in the coming year.
- Learn more about worldwide literacy through the stories below!