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Securing children’s right to read

Saturday 8 September is International Literacy Day, which seems like a particularly appropriate occasion to set out our plans to turn around the global learning crisis and ensure that every child leaves school able to read.

Although many more children are now going to school, it’s estimated that 200 million children across the developing world are struggling to read even basic words.

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 are prepared to lead safe, healthy and productive lives.

Image: Frederic Courbet/Panos

The case for pre-primary education

Learning begins at birth. The argument for focusing on early childhood development is strikingly straightforward: early life experiences have a significant impact that persists well into adulthood.

Investing smartly in early years services can play an important role in improving learning opportunities for those in and out of school.

The case for literacy in early primary

The abilities to read and write are foundational skills for all future learning. Ensuring children master these skills is an essential component of addressing the learning crisis.

Not only will it reduce the number of children dropping out and pave the way for their ongoing learning success, it is cost-effective by reducing inefficiencies in the education system.

A reading culture and material to read

However, we believe that these essential areas need to be combined with two other interventions to ensure that children really can secure the right to read, namely:

1. a culture that values reading and supports children to read outside of school

2. increased access to quality, local language children’s books.

Save the Children already has its own evidence-based approach to improving early-grade reading and writing, called Literacy Boost, which combines assessment, teacher training and community action.

So our intention is to combine Literacy Boost with community-based measures to increase access to early years services for pre-school-aged children, together with an innovative approach to building the capacity of local publishers and stimulating demand for children’s books, thereby increasing the availability of local language reading material.

Learning for all

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

The development story of the next generations 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 show the world what’s possible.

You can read more about our Rwanda literacy programme here.

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