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REACH Project Contributes to Global Education Conversations at CIES Conference in Mexico

Around the world, more than 250 million children either fail to complete more than three years of basic education or do so without acquiring adequate fundamental skills in literacy and numeracy. URC’s Reading within Reach (REACH) initiative, funded by USAID, is working to address this deficit by consolidating, building, and disseminating evidence to support improvement in early grade reading (EGR) achievement. REACH has mobilized a community of reading experts into the Global Reading Network (GRN) as a means of collaborating and sharing knowledge.

REACH had the opportunity to showcase program accomplishments and share best practices and lessons learned at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in Mexico City, March 25-29. Joining over 3,000 researchers, analysts, practitioners, and students representing 114 countries, REACH was a major participant at the event.

REACH organized a pre-conference workshop on best practices for designing and implementing early grade reading (EGR) programs. REACH staff also participated in CIES Special Interest Group meetings on global mathematics, literacy, and inclusive education, as well as panel sessions focusing on various aspects of early grade reading improvement, including government partnership in EGR initiatives, adapting reading instruction to context and language, conducting research and evaluation to inform program design and scale up, and best practices for materials development.

Global Book Alliance (GBA) and REACH’s Global Reading Network (GRN) shared a booth where visitors could join the GRN and learn about activities and products. Upcoming products include: five research-to-use papers covering vital topics in early grade reading (structured pedagogy, formative assessments, pre-school interventions, coaching, and connections between early math and early reading); a literacy toolkit focusing on disabilities issues; a multi-day EGR training opportunity; and a partnership with the ReLei Early Literacy Network in Central America and the Caribbean. REACH and GRN are also organizing working groups with Basic Education Coalition focused on comprehensive approaches incorporating literacy and math, as well as GRN member-run interest groups on Non-Fiction text, Reading Comprehension, and Coaching.

In addition to the exhibit booth, REACH sponsored coffee breaks and other opportunities for conference attendees to network and learn more about REACH and GRN activities. At a sponsored breakfast session, Dr. Eirini Gouleta, USAID Senior Education Advisor, opened conversation on a plan to work with REACH on a system diagnostic tool to support deeper examination of a country’s capacity to implement new language policies and sustainable reading programs, for improved planning and design.

In terms of sessions, REACH joined GBA at a presentation discussing how GBA plans to address the “book hunger” problem by putting reading books—in print and digitally—into the hands of all children by 2030, especially those in low- and middle-income countries where the book shortage is most acute. Participants discussed an early version of the Global Digital Library, a central repository for multiple digital platforms; Track and Trace systems to improve efficiency in book distribution; and a discussion led by SIL LEAD and REACH on Bloom software, a platform for quickly generating books in multiple languages.

Conference panels highlighted the urgent need to develop age-, language-, and context-appropriate books for children learning to read. One REACH-led initiative addressing this issue is the Enabling Writers Workshop Program, which uses the award-winning Bloom software to create early grade reading materials in local languages. Through the program, local authors have already created more than 3,000 books in six countries. It is funded through the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge partners—the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian government and implemented by REACH. 

The CIES gathering energized the global education community to continue to work together to reach SDG 4 goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all. REACH Project Director Jennifer Gerst noted the extensive accomplishments of GRN member organizations collectively and individually in their advancement of high-quality research, evaluation, and program initiatives.

Still, much remains to be done, Gerst says, “These gatherings are essential to REACH and GRN’s efforts to collaborate with the reading community to forward scalable and sustainable programs, to strengthen institutional capacity development, to integrate children with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities in reading efforts, and to leverage technology and work with publishers to greatly expand the number of reading books for children.”

Please watch for new opportunities to join GRN working groups and collaborate in special interest areas! In the meantime, learn more about project projects and activities here.