Today is the UN’s International Literacy Day 2018 -- it is both a celebration and a call to action.
First, we celebrate the progress that we have seen globally since the UN enacted the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. There are more ‘good readers’ today than in 2001 (UNESCO’s Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, PIRLS). There has also been a boom in literacy interventions in the international education space, using a variety of technologies, accessing students in and beyond the classroom, and mobilising local volunteers to assess and remediate children in their communities. Leaders across the world are taking responsibility for low learning rates, developing innovative programs to ensure all children are literate, and creating waves of life-changing impact. Today, we recognise and applaud this effort.
However, there is still more to be done globally and, for us at Young 1ove, at home in Botswana. In 2017, in partnership with the Botswana Ministry of Basic Education and University of Botswana, we found that a fifth of standard 5 students could not read a paragraph—the minimum grade-level expectation. We used an ASER-inspired basic literacy tool to conduct a census in two regions in basic reading skills. Students are in school but not learning. Young 1ove, in partnership with the Ministry of Basic Education and UNICEF Botswana, has committed to taking action.
Over the next 3-4 years, the Ministry of Basic Education, Young 1ove and UNICEF Botswana are scaling up a program called Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL). The program features dynamic, learner-centered activities and simple, cost-effective materials tailored to each and every child’s level. We start from the basics: students learn to recognise letters and numbers and sound out syllables. They then build words, sentences, and stories, and solve basic operations, from addition to division. Already, we’re seeing progress: the percentage of students who are meeting numeracy grade-level expectations jumped from only 9% to 36% after just 30 days. The students also have a rekindled love of learning:
“I feel happy because the programme has helped my child very much in manners, working together with others, and her school work. She is interested in her school books in the evening, she reads and when she doesn’t understand she asks for clarity. I thank you very much, keep up the good work.” - TaRL Parent
“The way you are teaching my child is good. She can read and understand what she is doing and this had made me to believe that she has improved than last year.” - TaRL Parent
By 2021 we plan to implement the program at scale, accessing and impacting tens of thousands of youth, with the goal that every child will become numerate and literate.
We are excited about the path ahead because we believe—and we have seen—that TaRL catches students who have fallen behind and equips them with the essential skills that will lead to their own and their communities’ prosperity. In the words of the late Kofi Annan, “literacy is […] the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential.” While we pause to celebrate our progress today, Young 1ove remains relentless in our pursuit of progress every day, so that every student learns and realises their potential.