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Starting a revolution in reading

The good news is that in the last ten years significant progress has been made in increasing the enrolment of the world’s out of school children in primary education.

Since 1999, the number of children not enrolled in primary school has fallen by 39 million. Even in the poorest countries, primary school net enrolment ratios have increased from an average of less than 60 percent in 1990 to over 80 percent in 2008.

However, we shouldn’t let these gains mask the enormity of the challenge that still lies ahead and the unfinished global agenda of providing good quality education to all the world’s children.

67 million children still not in school

So the bad news is that there are are still 67 million children who don’t get the chance to go to school and we need to do everything in power to help them to do so.

And it’s not as simple as getting all these kids into school, we also need to do more to ensure that when they get to school they actually learn something.

In school, but not learning

Unfortunately many children who go to school across the developing world fail to acquire the most basic skills, including crucially, the ability to read and write.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, a child with five years of education has a 40% chance of being illiterate and in Mali, Pakistan, and Peru, more than 70% of children in the primary grades cannot read at grade level.

Being able to read is the foundation of future learning and is both a survival skill and route to further advancement. People who can read enjoy better health, make more money, create safer and more stable democracies, and serve their communities more effectively.

Boosting children’s literacy

Drawing on lessons learned from reviews of children’s reading skills in nearly 50 developing countries worldwide, Save the Children led by our colleagues from the United States created Literacy Boost.

Literacy Boost has three pillars: assessment, teacher training and community action.

Assessment helps our programme find out how well kids:

  • Know their ABCs
  • Sound out words and letters
  • Read and understand sentences

Training supports teachers learn how to:

  • Keep students engage and interested in reading
  • Help young children focus and pay attention
  • Use games, songs and other fun activities in lessons

Community action helps create an enabling environment which has more print, creating a stronger imperative to read and more opportunities for children to do so, including by:

  • Providing books and learning materials and supporting communities to create their own
  • Sponsoring reading camps, “reading buddies” and other community bases learning activities
  • Organizing workshops to help parents support their children’s reading

In all the places where Literacy Boost has been implemented which includes Pakistan, Nepal, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Mali and Ethiopia, the programme has seen huge gains in children’s reading skills and ability.

Impressive results in Ethiopia

On a recent trip to Ethiopia I had the opportunity to visit schools where Literacy Boost was being implemented.

The teachers were among the most knowledgeable and confident I’ve seen. They were using interactive methods to teach letter recognition and all their students were thoroughly engaged.

They’d also produced lots of material for their classrooms including alphabets and word cards which they were using to support their teaching.

It was clear that these teachers and their students were part of a global revolution the aim of which was to ensure every child leaves school able to read. I couldn’t think of a better and more transformative goal and will be doing everything I can to help make it happen.

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