Teachers are supported through coaching, which is fully integrated into the system. Additional supplementary instructional materials are available in the classroom (small library, posters). Finally, tools for student formative evaluation and assessment are provided to teachers.
The most valuable element of the early grade reading is what we call a “ decodable” textbook, meaning a textbook that is perceptually enhanced, explicit and well-structured, introducing progressively new knowledge and providing content practice reading aloud for fluency and comprehension every day, at school, as well as at home. Each student receives such a textbook that they can take home. An impact evaluation of the program is planned for the end of the 2020 school year.
Communities are embracing early grade reading
Anecdotal evidence so far indicates that communities and parents embraced with unforeseen enthusiasm the program and the decodable textbook that students brought home daily. Non participating teachers are requesting the textbooks to use in their own classrooms. We hear that often older children use the textbooks from their younger siblings to practice reading, multiplying the impact of the textbook and the program beyond the selected classes.
In a small village, we heard from the local school principal about a “drama” in a family with twins. One was enrolled in the early grade reading program with the new ‘decodable’ textbooks, while the other twin continued with existing curriculum resources. The non-participating sibling was upset, begging to be enrolled in the same class to learn how to read with the decodable.
There is clearly a pressure to expand, even before the impact evaluation, while the huge demand for quality education services is also confirmed.
Continuing early grade reading at home despite school closures
This promising program had to stop on March 17, 2020 as the government closed schools to enforce social distancing measures and fight the coronavirus pandemic.
By now, millions of children are staying at home. The most vulnerable are students from poor families, with no internet connection or options to keep in touch with teachers or instruction. The big danger is that the learning gap will further widen.
Abandoning millions of students to the darkness of illiteracy will jeopardize their country’s human capital, the very basic idea of social cohesion and the chance at a peaceful and more equal life and work for all.
Countries in West Africa and elsewhere are moving quickly to mitigate the negative effects on students with psychosocial and learning programs. It is important not only to experiment with, but also to scale up, the best distance learning practices, in order to reach children and youth who are most at risk.