Advancing children’s right to read in Rwanda
Although many more children are now going to school, it’s estimated that 250 million children across the developing world are struggling to read even basic words – even after four years of school. Children who fail to read in the early years of school fall further behind every school year and are at higher risk of dropping out than children who master how to read and write early.
February 23, 2015 by Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly, Save the Children
7 minute read
Julia Gillard in a classroom of the GS Rwamiko school in Gicumbi district of Rwanda (c) Save the Children

Although many more children are now going to school, it’s estimated that 250 million children across the developing world are struggling to read even basic words – even after four years of school.

Children who fail to read in the early years of school fall further behind every school year and are at higher risk of dropping out than children who master how to read and write early.

But not all is lost. Evidence shows that targeted attention to two key priorities, namely, early childhood development and a focus on literacy acquisition in lower-primary school, could make a decisive difference in reversing the global learning crisis so that all children in school are able to learn.

Providing children with the skills, support and materials they need

Using the latest evidence of what works best when trying to help children learn to read and write, together with innovative approaches to family learning, community action and the literate environment, Save the Children is implementing an exciting program in Rwanda designed to ensure that children there have the skills, support and materials required to exercise their right to read.

The programme has four aims:

  1. Improving children’s emergent literacy skills and school readiness by supporting family learning for parents and children aged 0–3 and aged 4 – 6.
  2. Improving the teaching of reading by providing teachers with training in effective reading instruction.
  3. Developing a popular culture of reading and learning in which communities understand the value of literacy and create and sustain opportunities to practice and enjoy reading together.
  4. Creating a rich literate environment that guarantees children access to high quality, local language reading materials.

These four aims form the four ‘pillars’ of the programme.

Four pillars of Save the Children's Advancing the Right to Read program

We want to prove that by supporting children’s early learning, and their literacy in particular, both before and in school with measures to radically improve the literate environment, we can have a definitive impact on children’s ability to read and write.

Julia Gillard’s visit to Rwanda

The program recently received a huge boost from a visit by Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Australian Prime Minister. Save the Children is a close partner of the Global Partnership and was recently approved as potential managing entity of GPE funds. Along with ActionAid, Save the Children also represents Northern civil society constituency on the Board of the Global Partnership.

The visit took Ms. Gillard to a school in Gicumbi where she saw the difference that our Literacy Boost teacher training, book provision and community based reading promotion is making to children’s reading skills. She spoke with teachers, parents and children who explained the different elements of our work in their community.

“Save the Children’s work to support early literacy at home, better teaching of reading at school, increased access to books in communities and its work with publishers to produce better children’s books is very exciting,” said Ms Gillard.

“These interventions respond directly to the evidence of what works that were detailed in ‘A Global Compact on Learning’, published by The Brookings Institution where I am a Distinguished Fellow, and I look forward to seeing the results of the program in time,” she said.

“Reading is the gateway to future learning and success at school. Given the global crisis in learning we urgently need to scale up effective, evidence based methods to improve the acquisition of early grade reading skills. I am confident that Save the Children’s work in Rwanda will make an important contribution to doing exactly that,” Ms Gillard concluded.

Save the Children is part of the local education group in Rwanda which works with the government to develop comprehensive education sector plans that are then funded by the government and external donors, including the Global Partnership for Education.

The development story of the next generation will be written by the children sitting in the classrooms of low-income countries today. Whether they become the catalyst for a nation’s social and economic renaissance will depend on whether or not they learn to read.

Save the Children is committed to helping them do so and we’re very excited about our programme in Rwanda, which we hope will help show the world what’s possible. It was a real honour to be able to share it with the Chair of the Global Partnership for Education as part of that process.

Our ‘Advancing the right to read’ programme baselines and studies report is available here.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda

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Let governments and its agencies responsible for basic education reactivate the library system in public basic education system. Not only must school libraries be built and developed, the teacher-librarian cadre must be established. These teacher-librarians should be in charge of developing the reading skills of pupils. Schools should have library period during which time, children will be engaged in reading. The Mobile library system should also be developed for schools in the rural areas. The libraries MUST be stocked with adequate reading materials for the system to work

This system was developed by the Oyo State Primary School Board (OYO SPEB) in Oyo State, Nigeria between 1995 and 2003.

The above article is a brave effort to come up with answers in the face of illiteracy. Unfortunately good intentions and common sense are not enough to teach the very poor. To improve learning outcomes science is needed.

The cognitive science pertinent to reading: (a) Learning curves and the trends their predict. (2) the neuroscience involved in recognizing words as faces, in moving to parallel processing.

So, the real pillars are: learning of individual small chunks and practice to make them even larger chunks, to automaticity. Having textbooks with around 4000 words for grade 1, to enable fluency and parallel processing. Attaining speed of 45-60 words per minute, whereby the working memory can hold a message long enough in working memory to make sense of it.

And a 'reading culture'? It results only when people read fluently and effortlessly. Most of the time they don't get thought through small units, they don't have sufficient texts to practice. So even as adults, they read with some difficulty.

Unless the development community puts science on the plate of governments along with the money, outcomes will stay about where they are. There is no other way than the above for humans to learn.

Great to learn that there are private initiatives working out there to promote literacy in the third world. Much more effective than U.N. activity in this important area.

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