Teaching Children to Read in Fragile States
Violence. Exclusion. War. These are just a few of the situations children in fragile states face. The Global Reading Network’s webinar series in the month of July 2017 addresses the question: how does a country teach its children to read in such difficult learning environments?
Susan Ayari, Senior Associate at Creative Associates International, describes one approach. Ms. Ayari emphasizes that planning ahead is key and references the use of USAID’s Framework for the delivery of education programs in fragile states whereby government stakeholders, civil society actors and international experts proactively collaborate in an effort to build an adaptable body of knowledge to apply to programming. Ayari’s career spans some 40 years: 30 years as a teacher in the United States and Tunisia, and 10 years in development with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen and Jordan. On July 5, the seasoned strategist gave the sixty GRN webinar attendees advice on what they should expect and consider when implementing an early grade reading program in a conflict and crisis-affected environment.
In Ayari’s presentation, she highlights the need for ‘language mapping’ to understand children’s linguistic needs, as research proves children learn to read more effectively if they first begin instruction in their mother tongue. Ayari poses critical questions to implementers: What is the realistic educational capacity on a systemic level? How are schools clustered to deliver the most effective program? Are females excluded from learning in a co-ed environment? How are those with disabilities taught in school? What protections are in place in case of imminent danger? How do you best serve students suffering from post-traumatic stress?
First and foremost, Ayari says, implementers need to work through the Ministry of Education at all levels and establish contingency plans to allow for flexibility in unpredictable environments. Ayari advocates that a good reading program promotes opportunities to succeed despite potential fragility, instability and emergency. She provides a few successful examples:
- In Yemen, a national consensus regarding education was built by ensuring there were representatives from each level of government involved in the decision-making process. This approach mitigated conflict when regional issues arose that would otherwise have pitted the views of inhabitants of the northern part of the country against the views of those who lived in its southern region.
- In Pakistan, the curriculum has been adopted at the provincial level because the government is decentralized and provinces act autonomously on many policy decisions.
- Programs in Nigeria and other African countries where multiple ethnic groups coexist have developed culturally sensitive and relevant learning materials that use mother-tongue instruction. In addition, projects enhance the learning process by allowing the kinetic use of singing and dancing to be interspersed with reading and writing instruction. The same practice in Yemen and Afghanistan works with clapping and finger snapping.
- The Afghan Children Read project utilizes the Organizational Capacity Development Assessment (OCDP) plan, which introduces a transparent and collaborative action plan for capacity building between technical short-term assistance and government stakeholders at all levels. Materials have been developed with Islamic references, meeting social norms and expectations. The program has been embraced and championed by Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani.
Moderator Dr. Deepa Srikantaiah, GRN Senior Researcher, introduced as Discussant Dr. Margaret Sinclair, an independent consultant who has worked on “Education in emergencies” since 1987. Sinclair has worked on conflict-sensitive education with Education Above All ’s Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict programme (EAA-PEIC) and UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning. It is her fervent wish, she says, that education programmes do more to prevent conflict, rather than having to respond in emergency mode. This would mean more equitable access to education on the one hand, and including social and emotional learning, peacebuilding and citizenship skills in school programmes on the other, through approaches such as training writers of textbooks and early grade reading materials to incorporate skills for learning to live together.
In case of a crisis, there should be good coordination between education for development and education in emergencies programmes; staff working on crisis response may not be aware of education resources available in the crisis-affected country or region. In particular, it would be good to link experts in early grade reading and education in emergencies community, so that children have access to early grade reading materials even in crisis situations.
Sinclair adds her belief that teacher training courses provided by agencies working on early grade reading and other topics in fragile countries should be coordinated at the ministry of education level so that they build up recognized qualifications for individual teachers and attest to the competence within the nation’s teacher force. And, she advocates for the Global Partnership for Education, the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies and the Education Cannot Wait fund, among others, to promote conflict-sensitive approaches including the development and distribution of contextualized education materials that can help build students’ commitment to peace and sustainable development.