In rural Malawi, a six-year-old girl finishes her day at school, but when she comes back home her day of learning to read isn’t over. There’s a learning camp happening in her neighborhood, and she picks up a book from the camp’s small library. She sits and reads her book under a tree with a few other children in the community. Research shows that time spent learning outside of school is equally as important as the time a child spends in school. This was one of many conversations around early grade reading research, policy and practice at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference in Atlanta March 6-9.
Reading Within Reach (REACH) and Global Reading Network (GRN) staff members were pleased to be able to participate at CIES. The conference was full of activities, sessions and important discussions about work taking place around the world in support of education. REACH and GRN staff focused specifically on contributing to, and learning more about, early grade literacy programs, innovations and research. Sessions were presented on use of technology to support both adult and student learning and literacy, equity for girls’ early literacy education and large-scale innovations for resource sharing and development, among many other important literacy-related topics.
In addition to attending many literacy sessions and talking with literacy partners from around the world, REACH was pleased to also participate as a presenter in the Global Book Alliance session. This session focused on the broad and growing work of the Global Book Alliance, development of the Global Digital Library, sourcing and distributing resources in developing contexts and spotlighting Enabling Writers as an example of an effective and efficient title development approach. The session was well-attended by international participants, and it provided exciting information about new initiatives and opportunities in the area of early grade literacy resource development, provision and funding opportunities. Stay tuned to GRN’s monthly newsletter for more information and opportunities related to the important process of developing and providing quality books for every classroom.
As a follow-up to CIES, and particularly targeted to GRN members who were not able to attend, the GRN held a post-CIES webinar on March 22 to highlight the main discussions from the conference. Dr. Abbie Raikes, Dr. Sylvia Thompson and Dr. Elliott Friedlander were the main speakers in the webinar. The three shared experiences from CIES, main challenges and gaps in the field and ideas regarding how these challenges and gaps can be addressed.
All three webinar speakers emphasized that learning should start early, noting that the first two years of children’s lives are vital in their development. Panelists also mentioned the role of language, cross-sectional data, and program sustainability, as well as ways that learning should be extended to include the family and the status of existing reading systems in certain countries. The speakers noted some gaps in the research, such as the connection between learning and motivation.
One the challenges mentioned is the use of the term “parents” in regard to community involvement in reading programs. Focusing on “parents” limits children’s learning support opportunities outside of school. The suggestion was therefore to broaden the term “parents” to “family.” Expanding the terminology is important because family, specifically in context of Africa and most developing countries, refers to parents, cousins, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, etc. Since all of these family members are interacting with the child, all should a have role to play in supporting the child’s learning. In this case, family and community involvement is the best approach.
The webinar was well received, with over 75 online participants. If you were not able to attend CIES this year or watch the webinar live, you can access it here.