Early grade reading changing children's lives
Learning to read is one of the great joys of life. At home in Adelaide, I love bedtime story reading with my nephew and niece. It is almost like you can see their brains growing as their gaze starts to move from the pictures to the text. ‘Wow!', you can hear them thinking, those shapes mean something. Those shapes are telling the story. Then comes recognition of individual letters and working out their sounds. Then letters together forming words.
And then, when those words come together, it is like getting the keys to a magical new world of excitement and adventure. Reading is such a joy, and learning to read is pure wonder. As the great Dr Seuss said, ‘the more that you read, the more things that you'll know. The more that you'll learn, the more places you'll go'.
It should break all of our hearts that hundreds of millions of children, in many parts of the world, are denied the opportunity to learn to read. This means that they will not only miss out on one of life's great joys, but that they will also struggle with the most basic of life's demands.
The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report tells us that if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. In real terms, this would mean a 12 per cent cut in global poverty.
It is easy to assume that the divide between who learns to read and who does not, is the same divide as the one between who gets to go to school and who misses out. But actually, in many parts of the world, even children who get to go to school don't actually learn how to read. We know there are more than 250 million children in our world attending primary school in developing countries who struggle to read the most basic of words; 115 million children will still not be able to read by Grade 4.
While significant progress has been made in increasing access to education, particularly for the poorest children, the average level of student learning remains low in many developing countries. Children need basic skills, like reading, to lead productive and healthy lives. If current trends continue, by 2030, 420 million primary school children and 825 million secondary school students will be without basic grade level skills.
That's why quality early grade reading is a key focus for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
In GPE partner country Nepal for instance, enhancing early grade reading competency is now one of the country's key priorities for improving the quality of education. Findings from a recent national-level early grade reading assessment found that 37 per cent of second graders and 19 per cent of third graders were not able read a single word of a short passage. The absence of reading-focused curricula, a lack of appropriate reading materials and teacher training, and limited awareness among parents and teachers of the importance of reading have created significant challenges.
Nepal joined GPE in 2009 and received a first grant of US$117.8 million for 2010-14, which was pooled with funds from the government and other development partners to support the implementation of the School Sector Reform Plan 2009-16. Nepal also received additional financing of US$59.3 million for 2015-18 under GPE's new funding model. The program's objective is to increase access to and improve the quality of education, benefiting more than seven million students and 200 000 teachers in over 28 000 community schools across the country.
The project supported the establishment of a National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP) in July 2014. The NEGRP focuses on curriculum revision, production and supply of reading materials, teacher training, and improved classroom instruction. A parent-teacher partnership for improving early grade reading skills is measured by a stretch indicator. Schools will conduct reading assessments in the presence of parent representatives and share the results with parents. The purpose is twofold: it will help to inform parents of the reading progress made by their children; and, it will hold schools accountable for the children's learning.
We are already seeing results. In 2017, standardised classroom-based early grade reading assessments for Grades 2 and 3 were conducted and observed by parents in 2605 community schools in 11 districts.
This is just one example of where our efforts to enhance early grade reading are changing children's lives. This work is far from over – we must not stop until all children have the basic life skill of reading. All children deserve that capability, and all children deserve to experience the magic and wonder that reading can unlock.