This post contributed by Kimberly Smith, Technical Advisor for Education at IRC, is published as part of the NORRAG Debates series: Towards Evidence-Based Financing for Education in Emergencies, by NORRAG and INEE, intended to promote discussion of and explore the linkages between financing and evidence for education in emergencies (EiE). The author discusses the impact that accurate, timely data has had on the Pakistan Reading Project (PRP) that deals with student’s literacy deficits.
Jamayeti is a young woman from Lasbela district in Balochistan, Pakistan. Lasbela is a place where, as in much of Pakistan, female literacy lags significantly behind male literacy. Born into a family with few resources, Jamayeti’s education has been further complicated by physical disability; she contracted polio as a child and struggles with walking.
Even in the face of these challenges, Jamayeti dreamed of becoming an educator. And despite the odds, Jamayeti completed her education and became a government primary schoolteacher. Jamayeti soon noticed the curriculum was outdated, and did not help teachers understand students’ reading levels. Jamayeti had no idea of how well her students could identify letters and letter sounds, or read and comprehend grade level text. Conventional methods of teaching were ineffective in helping students develop basic reading skills. Everything changed for Jamayeti the day she observed another teacher’s students benefitting from the Pakistan Reading Project (PRP) training programs and its Reading Learning Materials (RLM). When the language teacher was transferred, Jamayeti volunteered to attend PRP’s comprehensive face-to-face training program and regular teacher inquiry group (TIG) meetings.
Over the last 6 years the Government of Pakistan (GOP), with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has responded to Pakistani students’ literacy deficits through PRP initiatives. Through implementing partner the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and a consortium including Creative Associates International, World Learning and Institute for Rural Management (IRM), PRP is improving early grade classroom reading environments, contributing to policies for reading initiatives and enhancing community support for reading in the 69 districts in 7 regions of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan (GB), Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Newly Merged Districts (NMD, formally FATA) and Sindh.
PRP interventions are carried out with grade 1 and 2 teachers and students in the languages of Urdu, Sindhi, with additional pilots in Pashto, Balochi, and Brahui. Teachers and students are provided with a comprehensive package of learning materials comprised of structured lesson plans, big books, leveled readers, student work books, flash cards, syllable charts and quarterly reading assessments. In addition, all teachers participate in a 3-pronged teacher professional development approach including face-to-face training, collaborative peer learning groups or teacher inquiry groups (TIGs) and classroom support visits.
The first challenge for Pakistani teachers, school leadership, training institutions and policy makers was to identify what reading success looks like and specifically understand where and what the gaps are in student learning. Then stakeholders have had to consider how to use this knowledge to inform program, policy and resource decisions at the classroom, district, regional and national level. At the onset of PRP, multiple national reading assessments conducted in several regions demonstrated that too many Pakistani students are not learning to read in primary school. For example, ASER (2013) demonstrated that 49% of grade three students could not read sentences in their language of instruction (Urdu, Pashtu and Sindh) and 45% of grade five students could not read a grade two story in their language of instruction. Moreover, baseline data revealed that on average across provinces, 31% of second grade students scored zero in oral language fluency (ORF).[i]
PRP aims to change this and is succeeding at achieving outcomes for children at scale. It has reached 26,915 teachers like Jamayeti and 1.5 million students and across 7 regions in Pakistan. An external study by Management Systems International and an internal study conducted by the IRC reveal that PRP’s high impact strategies have made a positive difference in students’ reading abilities and teachers’ instructional strategies for reading.[ii] While the challenge of addressing the literacy crisis in Pakistan remains daunting, these effects speak to the promise of interventions to achieve results in numerous districts across the country.
Having accurate, timely data has been a powerful tool to help stakeholders make informed changes in reading policy and practice. In conjunction with USAID, IRC is conducting research about components of teacher professional development to answer questions about what works at what cost in Pakistan government schools. This can inform policies about what changes can be made that are sustainable and scalable. Armed with actionable data and the support of PRP, education officials have developed reading improvement strategies (RIS) frameworks in which fundamental policies have been addressed. Data from PRP has given the government confidence to adopt 55 policies, prioritizing sustainable actions in three critical areas: revision of Pakistani language curriculum, revision of textbooks to align with newly adopted reading standards and enhancing the approach to continuous professional development.
A key to PRP’s success has been training and engaging stakeholders at all levels in using data to improve student reading from understanding the condition of student reading achievement, conducting classroom formative assessment, tracking performance regularly, monitoring the program and making course correction. Employing PRP materials and methods such as daily formative assessments and quarterly reading skill evaluations, Jamayeti has been able to track each student’s reading competencies and to appropriately assign students to one of three levels of leveled readers: approaching, on level, above level, allowing students to further develop fluency and comprehension skills.
As a result of employing the systematic, explicit reading instruction of PRP’s daily lesson plans, providing students feedback about learning through daily assessment activities and assigning students to the appropriate level of the independent reading materials provided by PRP, Jamayeti has observed significant improvement in her students’ reading skills and attendance. Her students actively participate and take a keen interest in big books, leveled readers and corner library books. Her Grade 2 students can now read Urdu books at a Grade 5 level. Eventually, she was able to set up a children’s reading club in her school. This helped to instill a sense of leadership and ownership in her students who now manage the club on their own. The Federal Minister for Education awarded Jamayeti the “Best Teacher Award” to acknowledge her efforts and commitment towards improved student learning outcomes. While receiving her award, Jamayeti said, “The learning materials developed by PRP and the TIG trainings helped me achieve my goal.”
[i] Diazgranados, Silvia. (2018). Lessons from Research in the Pakistan Reading Project. Islamabad: The International Rescue Committee for the Pakistan Reading Project.
About the Author
Kimberly A. Smith is Technical Advisor for Education at the International Rescue Committee and holds a PhD in Reading Education and has extensive experience in developing programs around the foundations of literacy in humanitarian contexts. In addition to her contributions to the Pakistan Reading Project, she has been involved in literacy projects in fragile contexts across the globe including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Lebanon, Mali and Nigeria. Email: Kimberly.Smith2@rescue.org
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