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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