Although the literacy rate in Ecuador is 94%, there are still many women who can hardly read or write, especially in the poorer or more remote area of the country.
María Elvia Toaquiza Toapanta is among them. A 37-year-old single mother, María lives in two small rented rooms in Pisulí on the outskirts of Quito with her elderly mother and her son Mathew, who has an intellectual disability. She used to live in the countryside, but she was forced to move to the city to look for better job opportunities. Getting a job was not as easy as she thought and she soon found herself unemployed with two vulnerable people to care for.
US Chargé d'Affaires Andrew Haviland visited the AVSI-supported school Sohouo, in the northern region of Poro, Ivory Coast, on April 6, 2017. With 360 primary students, including 192 girls and 61 pre-school children, Sohouo is one of 613 schools targeted by the “Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program,” which AVSI is implementing with funding from the McGovern-Dole FY 2015 program of US Department of Agriculture. The program’s main goal is to ensure balanced meals for 125,000 students while improving reading and writing skills for students in 613 rural public primary schools in seven priority regions of Ivory Coast (Cavally, Bafing, Bagoué, Poro, Tchologo, Bounkani land Gontougo). The program is led by the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of a consortium with AVSI and the Central Management of School Canteens (DCS).
The US Embassy in Ivory Coast organized the field-monitoring mission to the Northern school in Sohouo, following the first year of program activity. Andrew Havilland, who is responsible for oversight of all US Government activities in Ivory Coast, was accompanied by the Korhogo Regional Director of National Educationof Korhogo, the Inspection Office of Primary Education, and the Assistant Prefect of Sohouo.
“The program’s goal is not only to eliminate midday hunger and improve the nutritional status of children but also improve reading skills, in order to retain children in school for access to quality education for all girls and boys in Ivory Coast,” said Ms. Adeyinka Badejo, the WFP Country Representative in Ivory Coast.
Mr. Hailand was very touched by the enthusiastic reception as the village chief and leaders joyfully greeted the guests with Senoufo traditional dances and songs. He stressed that in order to improve the life of the population of Ivory Coast, action must begin with educational initiatives like the “Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program.”
"We want to increase the enrollment rate for all children, especially for girls beyond primary education. To the extent that the US government supports Ivory Coast’s aspirations to translate its strong economic performance into a better life for its citizens, we must start with education,” said Haviland. “The McGovern-Dole School Feeding Program supports the goal of the US mission in Abidjan to increase economic opportunities by strengthening human resources that imply better outcomes at the primary school level.”
In his speech, the Diplomat thanked AVSI in particular for all the quality work already done to improve teaching reading and writing skills.
In her speech, Mrs. Karidia Koné Soukoule, Director of School Canteens of the Ministry of National Education, thanked the US Government and all the actors involved in the implementation of the program. Since the beginning of this program in November 2016, 125,000 children have been able to eat a hot lunch at noon. She stressed that feeding children in school has had a beneficial effect on student failure rates, which have decreased from 20% in 2011 to 7% in 2016 in Sohouo school.
On behalf of all the students who benefited from the project, Véronique Yeo Yelé, 6th grader thanked the American people for their generosity in helping children in Ivory Coast. In her speech, she imparted the traditional Fotamana welcome, a greeting given to all visitors to express their welcome in the local language, Senoufo.
"Thanks to this project, we eat well and we are healthy. In addition, the 1st and 2nd graders have benefited from the appropriate teaching tools and materials to learn how to read well,” said Véronique, who also thanked the WFP, AVSI and DCS for their efforts and work.
After the various speeches, Mr. Haviland symbolically handed over the dry rations of food to the parents of the girls in 6th grade. He then distributed and gave mobile libraries, didactic games, reading boards and other reading and learning materials to the directors of the eight surrounding schools (Fodonition, Koni, Bodonon, Tawara , Zemogokaha, Kotcherie, Karafigué and Sohouo).
The Chargé d'Affaires and the delegation then visited the 2nd grade class to observe how the teacher and students use AVSI's materials and teaching tools. Interested in the lesson, Mr. Haviland exchanged ideas with the teacher of the class before giving the students a gift of books as a sign of encouragement for this very worthwhile initiative and approach to the mobile libraries set up by AVSI. Before leaving the village, the Diplomat and the delegation saw the students having lunch in the canteen.
In the afternoon, a working session was held at the WFP office in Korhogo. WFP and AVSI staff presented the achievements of the activities, the impact, the challenges and the successes thus far in the implementation of the program. At the end of the working session, Mr. Haviland said that he appreciated the level of implementation and expressed his availability to mobilize funds from other donors to meet unmet needs, including support for agricultural groups, which provides and makes possible school feedings.
By ROBERTA ALVES AND MARIE L'HERMINE
Photos taken by AVSI staff in Ivory Coast
In a country where only 56.9% of the population are able to read and write, AVSI found an easy and exciting way to bring thousands of new books to children’s doorsteps: foldable mobile libraries. As part of the project implemented by AVSI under the leadership of the World Food Programme (WFP), “Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast” (2016-2020), 80,000 books will be distributed to 613 schools in seven program regions: Cavally, Bafing, Bagoue, Poro, Tchologo, Boukani and Gontougo. Each school will receive a mobile library which can hold up to 30 books and will include titles written by Ivorian, African and Francophone authors.
The project aims to improve the literacy skills of children attending primary school in Ivory Coast by assisting the Ministry of Education with the implementation of its new early grade reading curriculum including training teachers and facilitating parent and community involvement in literacy related activities. The World Food Programme (WFP) will be implementing a school feeding program in the same 613 schools with the intention of improving the nutritional status of children. Both sets of outcomes—nutrition and early reading skills—will complement each other for greater impact on the lives of these children in Ivory Coast.
Research has shown the importance that access to books has in promoting a love of reading and fundamental skills at a young age.
“We want to give children a broader understanding of the French language,” explains Elly Bahati, AVSI Education Officer and Program Manager in Ivory Coast. “We began by choosing Ivorian authors as a priority and then we expanded with titles published in African Francophone countries and finally we included other books written in French”.
In July, the first step in this five-year project funded by the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program through USDA, came to a close. AVSI, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Ivory Coast Ministry of Education, and the National Statistical Institute (INS) carried out a robust baseline assessment of schools targeted for the project. AVSI brought on board the services of IMPAQ International, a DC based firm with plenty of experience in education evaluation, to test the reading skills of students in 100 primary schools in the seven regions. 1,181 students went through the testing—a combination of a reading assessment and school and household surveys. The main goal was to understand how many students can read according at grade level at the beginning of the project.
The results were poor, but not unexpected. Very few students can read at grade level: only 5% of first graders passed the acceptable reading threshold for their grade. Reading proficiency levels were low across all grades and the numbers seem to get worse as the children grow older: 14% of second graders, 22% of third graders, 11% of fourth graders, 6% of fifth graders, and 8% of sixth graders read at grade level. Across all grades, girls demonstrated lower reading skills than boys.
One positive finding was the widespread interest that children expressed towards reading. “Although there is a low presence of books outside of schools and low parental engagement in reading at home, children show a positive attitude towards reading and a growing desire for having access to more books,” says Bahati.
In the next few months, children at these schools in mostly rural regions of the country, will have the opportunity to be introduced to the mobile libraries through interactive activities like story time, music, theater and individual reading. The mobile libraries have already been used in big cities like the capital, Abidjan, but this will be the first time they are introduced in these regions. They were created with the idea of introducing books to children in a fun way.
AVSI Network was able to collect 30,000 books around the World
Once the project is completed, 125,000 children will have access to 80,000 books. 30,000 of them were donated to AVSI from francophone countries like Switzerland and France. The other 50,000 will be bought. Once each school has their library, children will be able to take books home on a regular basis to read with their families.
As part of the project, teachers working in the seven regions will also receive training on how to use improved tools to teach math and reading. The main new tools are a series of booklets designed to help students have a better understanding of letters and sounds in order to decode words and be able to read.
“This project is fundamental to deal with the current struggle with illiteracy in Ivory Coast and we are confident it will bring positive changes,” says Coulibaly Adama, General Adjunct of the National Ministry of Education.
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