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Celebrating literacy during COVID-19

02 September 2020, Impact of Our Work

How children have kept reading despite the pandemic’s challenges 

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was already struggling with a learning crisis. The World Bank estimates that 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries were living in Learning Poverty – unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.

And this year, children’s experience of learning to read and write has been very different from years past. With schools closed, many parents and caregivers have had to take on the role of teacher by educating children at home. Teachers have also had to adapt dramatically – through remote teaching and managing the limitations of teaching through technology. 

But we know how critical daily reading is for children – it’s the foundation upon which learning is built and it has a positive impact on their children’s well-being.  

This International Literacy Day, we look at how teachers and parents are working through the disruptions, to keep children reading, writing and learning.  

Home-learning support in the Solomon Islands

In the Solomon Islands Country Office, Save the Children has been supporting the development of emergent and foundational literacy skills for children in rural areas, both inside and outside the classroom, for years. 

So, when the threat of COVID-19 emerged, we were well placed to support children to continue learning. We adapted our ‘Emergent Literacy and Maths at Home’ package for delivery over the radio. This package helps parents of pre-school aged children identify learning opportunities in a typical daily routine.  It is designed to fit around parents and children’s daily lives at home, where most parents are farming or fishing during the day, and to accommodate the low adult literacy rates.      

Teachers rise to the challenge

In Papua New Guinea, where adult and child literacy is low, we have been training teachers to develop literacy and numeracy among students using the school-based curriculum for English, vernacular (local language) and mathematics. We’re supporting them to make their own resources using natural objects and we’re creating storybooks in 30 different languages.

When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Save the Children pushed our eLearning resources out to families so that those who could keep learning from home were able to. The resources include books are from the PNG national curriculum that are translated into 31 languages including English, Tok Pisin, Motu, and PNG Sign Language. 

We also developed COVID-19 awareness materials for children from pre-school to secondary school. We created posters, stickers and fold out pocket guides. In PNG children are still attending school and staying safe by washing their hands and wearing masks. 
 


Kids continue learning outdoors in PNG, staying safe by socially distancing, and wearing masks.
Photo: Joy Wong / Save the Children

 

Janet is from the Eastern Highlands in Papua New Guinea. In 2007, she started the Habanofi Elementary School with 80 students. Initially she relied on her experience as a community adult literacy teacher. In 2010 she graduated with a certificate in Elementary teaching.

She explains to teach the children, she’s had to teach herself first. “I was trained to be an elementary teacher, but I must tell the truth that my Literacy and Numeracy skills and knowledge were too shallow. I was struggling to deliver the curriculum content,” said Janet. 
    
After receiving RISE training, she’s a lot more assured in her skills to teach the children. “I am now confident teaching phonics in English in line with the curriculum and assist children with different learning needs.”

I want each child in my class to be able to read a word and say a sentence in English. This will give me a feeling of satisfaction.

Janet

Reading at school, at home and in the community

To grow into voracious readers, children need to be exposed to books both inside and outside the classroom. Father of three, Elisha, knows having books at home can make a huge difference once children are in school.

As parents, we are the first teachers in the community. We parents must do our best to prepare our children for the teachers in schools.

Elisha

Elisha’s son, also named Elisha, joined Elementary School after attending a RISE early childhood centre last year. When Elisha moved to elementary, his early reading preparation paid off, and he was able to skip a grade, going straight from Prep to Year 1. 


Elisha, father of 3 children including his son Elisha in PNG.
Photo: Joy Wong / Save the Children

 

A library for all

Save the Children’s Library for All produces culturally diverse books via a digital library app, and in print. We know over 50 per cent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read by the end of primary school. To learn to read independently, children need to practice their literacy skills daily in and outside school settings and access a variety of reading materials in local languages.

Library For All’s products make reading fun for children in developing countries. The books contain age-appropriate stories and storylines that reflect their lived experiences. The stories feature strong female and differently abled characters to inspire children and help them learn more about the world around them.

Library For All books are available in Australia through the Google Play app, and through Trove, the online catalogue of Australian library holdings. The titles available via Trove can only usually be viewed onsite at state and national libraries. This helps prevent any downloading, copying or unauthorised use of our material. 

But when libraries began to shut down because of COVID-19, Library For All collaborated with the State Library of Queensland to make sure families could continue to access books in their homes. 

Library For All released 30 of their most popular titles, reflecting social and cultural diversity, for off-site reading. These 30 titles remain available to any reader with a library membership to read from wherever they are based.

This ensures kids can keep reading at home, and keep learning, even while school attendance may be disrupted. 

Promoting reading in Laos

Under the Regional Education E-Learning Program in Laos*, Library For All have deployed Spark Digital Classroom Kits into eight schools in Huaphanh province for 580 children. Each kit holds 40 Android tablets showcasing a library of over 200 original books in the Lao language. The Spark Kits were delivered to primary schools at the start of the school year in November 2019, with each school receiving technical training on use and maintenance.  

Laos has been in a State of Emergency since March, and schools were closed for extended period. In response, Library For All looked at ways children could keep reading while not at school. The library of Lao language books is now available to Android users via the Library For All app, which can be downloaded free from the Google Play store. This version of the app was specially designed for children and parents in Laos and has opened up the opportunity for communities and parents to encourage an ongoing reading experience while the schools are on their break.
 
Extra books have also been introduced to the Lao library focusing on health and hygiene, with even more in development. 

*The Laos program is supported by the Australian Government, ChildFund and Library For All

Banner photo: Library for All

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