Building education systemwide self-reliance in Latin America and the Caribbean

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By LAC Reads Capacity Program

A key element of the 2018 U.S. Government Strategy on International Basic Education is the road to self-reliance. To achieve self-reliance, capacity and performance of the education system must be prioritized.

 The five-year regional USAID/LAC Reads Capacity Program (LRCP), implemented by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Juárez and Associates (J&A) and financed by USAID, focuses on fostering capacity, sustainability, and self-reliance of early grade literacy (EGL) interventions in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. The program realizes this through leading workshops, developing innovative solutions to national and regional issues around literacy, and providing technical assistance to host country government and stakeholders to improve EGL opportunities and outcomes for the LAC children.  The program works in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Peru, as well as Eastern Caribbean states.  

In 2018, LAC Reads Capacity Program led 3 national conferences and 4 workshops on pre-reading and pre-writing in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Over 500 members participated in the conferences and over 150 participants in the interactive workshops, including Ministry staff, local key stakeholders, academics, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

As capacity building is a core element of the USAID/LRCP program, the workshop provided participants with fundamentals on early grade literacy methodology, pre-reading and pre-writing strategies to use in the classroom, teacher monitoring, evaluation and support methods, and innovative pedagogical approaches.

To assess the capacity built and the quality of learning from the workshop, a pre-test and a post-test was administered to all participants in each country. The surveys included workshop expectations, four technical content questions aligned to the workshop’s objectives, and how to apply their learnings to their work.

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Participants were eager to learn new pre-reading and pre-writing methodologies and evaluation methods. A participant from the Ministry of Education in Guatemala shared in their pre-test, “Nuevas metodologías para orientar y sensibilizar a los docentes y autoridades en la forma más apropiada, pertinente e interesante para desarrollar habilidades” (New methodologies to guide and sensitize teachers and authorities in the most appropriate, pertinent and interesting way to develop skills). Participants from Honduras looked forward to learning about pedagogical strategies that could be implemented in classrooms and early childhood education (ECE) centers to support pre-reading and pre-writing skills.

The technical content questions included four qualitative, open ended questions with the purpose to better understand participant learning as a result of the workshop. The question, “What are the characteristics of a successful methodology to promote pre-reading and prewriting skills for young children?” yielded more specific and actionable post-survey responses. In Honduras participants’ post-survey responses emphasized concrete characteristics, such as taking individual needs and differences of children into account. In the Dominican Republic, a participant from UNIBE/Proyecto Leer described a successful methodology for promoting pre-literacy skills in a similar way: “Que atienda la diversidad en el aula [por] instrucción diferenciada” (That it addresses the diversity in the classroom to differentiate instruction). Other participants from Guatemala and Honduras highlighted the need for playful activities, print-rich environments, active participation, the importance of verbal expression and story dramatization.

When asked to “Describe an effective practice and ineffective practice that supervisors use to monitor and provide feedback to teachers,” participants revealed that teachers should receive more on-going support and modeling of pre-reading and pre-writing practices to improve their implementation. A MINERD participant in Guatemala wrote, “Es importante que los supervisores participen en los talleres con los docentes para que luego puedan hacer los acompañamientos y monitoreos con propiedad” (it is important that supervisors participate in the workshops along with the teachers so that they can then support and monitor them properly).

Though capacity building is commonly administered through workshops in USAID-funded international education projects, it is critical to ensure that the capacity building trainings is truly effective through evidence-based results. Through the regional pre-reading and pre-writing workshops, USAID/LAC Reads Capacity Program aimed to measure participant knowledge before and after the workshop, as well as to measure the impact of the training on participant knowledge. The project is currently following up with stakeholders who attended the workshop to understand the behavioral and organizational based impact to validate that the participants are gaining the capacity necessary to create sustainable, systemwide self-reliance to improve EGL outcomes and opportunities for LAC children.

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AIR: One Teacher's Experiences in Tajikistan

Through AIR's work with the USAID's Quality Reading Project in Tajikistan, Guljahon Rahmonova, who teaches fourth grade in Kulob, received specialized in-service training. Read about her experiences in her own words.

"The USAID Quality Reading Project In-Service Teacher Training on Reading in the Tajik Mother Tongue opened my eyes to an important fact; our current practices focused entirely on reading fluency and speed, which I realized were only small aspects of reading. During the sessions, I learned that teaching reading is much broader and more complex than this, because reading includes many other aspects – vocabulary enrichment, reading comprehension, formative assessment, letter recognition, phonemic awareness, and so on."

"We learned many new strategies to engage our students and teach them reading and Tajik language in new ways. Let me tell you about them."

Silent Reading

"Silent reading is important because this is what students will do all their lives. We’ve done this before but we didn’t test them on whether they comprehend what they were reading."

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Vocabulary Books and Visual Aids
"Did they even understand all the words? Of course not. We have now introduced the creation of vocabulary books to help students to learn new words in an interesting way. We started playing vocabulary games and are now using tactile learning aids. Many of those aids we learned to create during the USAID Quality Reading Project In-Service Teacher Training."

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"We also discovered something else that was completely new to us. As a primary teacher, I had never considered how to make the classroom a reading-friendly environment. We learned about using visual aids and the importance of displaying the kids’ work on the walls of the classroom."
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AIR's current international education work

World Vision: How Education Inspired Peace for Two Refugee Children

Five-year-old Kheir outside World Vision’s Early Education Program in the Bekaa area in Lebanon. ©2017 World Vision/photo by Josephine Haddad   

Five-year-old Kheir outside World Vision’s Early Education Program in the Bekaa area in Lebanon. ©2017 World Vision/photo by Josephine Haddad

For Kheir and Mhamad, school had a different meaning than it holds for many children. It was not just a place for education; it was a getaway, a place where they could live their childhood.

The alternative for Kheir, 5, was gathering plastic and nylon from the sides of the road and then selling them to the local buyers who are interested in recycling. As for Mhamad, 6, it was collecting potatoes from the field for hours and hours every day.

But thanks to determined parents and World Vision’s “Early Children Education” program, both boys were introduced to the world of education.

Kheir’s story

“He’s the only one in the family who stands the chance of having a good future. All of our hopes are pinned on Kheir,” said his mother Souraya, 37. None of his eight older siblings had the chance of receiving schooling, neither in Syria nor in Lebanon. Kheir comes from a big family. His father remarried and had children from his second wife. He no longer supported Souraya’s children, who are all minors, especially after both families fled to Lebanon from Aleppo in 2011.

Souraya heard about World Vision’s “Early Children Education” program, which is based on activities that give vulnerable children the opportunity to be successful in life. It develops their skills and hobbies through a curriculum for children ages 3 to 6 that includes learning letters, sounds, colors, songs, and numbers. The classes take place in seven different informal tented settlements in the Bekaa area. Souraya registered Kheir, as he was within the correct age range. But Kheir’s older brothers had to gather plastic and sell it in order for their family to survive. They often asked Kheir for his assistance in certain neighborhoods.

“He begs me to go to school instead of work, because he likes it there more,” said Souraya.

“I make $7 on most days. I use it to buy bread and water for my family,” said Kheir, who has asked his brothers if he can work with them after school, so he doesn’t miss classes.

“It isn’t just about food,” Souraya interrupted, “ Kheir stopped being violent with other children. He cares more about his personal hygiene and nothing makes him happy like getting good remarks from his teachers. ”

“The school is like a sanctuary to him and I encourage that,” said Souraya.

Read Mhamad's Story and more here