“These are the children of our country. They are our children. If they are able to read and learn, our school will shine, our country will shine.” – Humera Sanam, teacher in Sindh
A baseline early grade reading assessment (EGRA) conducted in 2014 for 6,000 third-grade students in Sindh Province in southeastern Pakistan revealed a startling statistic. Of the children evaluated, 32 percent could not read a single word of grade-level text in Sindhi or Urdu, the province’s two main languages. After further research, one leading cause emerged: The majority of students in the province did not have access to textbooks and supplementary reading materials.
One solution might have been simply to create and distribute books. However, the people involved in the USAID Sindh Reading Program (SRP) decided to take a more holistic approach. In addition to new learning materials, they mapped out a multi-pronged strategy that brings together teacher training, institutional review, and an innovative assessment approach.
This initiative supports the larger efforts of USAID to meet a global education target of improving the early grade reading skills of 100 million children. It also supports the Sindh Education Sector Plan for 2014-2018, which aims to increase literacy from 59 to 70 percent and enrollment from 32 to 45 percent.
Creating and distributing new materials has been a big first step. Unlike previous attempts, these materials have been prepared with systematic precision, factoring in elements such as font style, size, illustrations, and number of words per page to make sure they are grade-appropriate. In December 2015, 120,520 teaching and reading resources were distributed to 1,460 schools in seven districts in Sindh. A total of 182,000 materials for grades 1-5, including readers, decodable stories, and read-alouds, have been distributed throughout Sindh since the project started in 2014.
The first type of material were readers — read-aloud and levelled formats — that reinforce foundational reading skills for children in grades 1 and 2. These readers directly align with scripted lesson plans for teachers, the second type of learning material that SRP staff helped develop. The lesson plans follow a specific scope and sequence — in other words, a framework that describes in detail the concepts students will learn at each point in the curriculum. In addition to applying phonics-based instruction, the lesson plans steer away from traditional rote memorization techniques and toward interactive modes of learning. Activity-based teaching motivates back-and-forth between teachers and students, as well as peer-to-peer learning.
“The use of sounds along with activity-based learning has greatly helped improve children’s reading skills,” said Humera Sanam, a grade 1 teacher from Sukkur District in Sindh.
The scope and sequence and the materials went through a rigorous vetting process — a new phenomenon in Sindh — by the recently established Materials Review Committee. The committee consists of eight representatives from the Sindh Textbook Board, the Bureau of Curriculum, and Government Colleges of Elementary Education. By involving these subject matter experts, SRP has essentially institutionalized a local mechanism of accountability.