This week, we have been hosting Plan colleagues from across the globe at the Washington DC gathering of the 2015 Comparative and International Education Society Conference. It has been very exciting to listen to and learn from presentations by Plan staff and others on topics such as early childhood care and development programs, girls’ education, teaching and learning using mobile technology, social and financial education, and education for children with disabilities.
The highlight of the conference for me was a Plan-sponsored panel, which focused on how families and communities have become involved in improving a child’s learning. I was honored to chair the discussion as the standing-room-only crowd listened to four presenters share their experiences on the role of the community in early grade reading and how grounding student learning in a nurturing environment can help to improve the education process for vulnerable children.
The first speaker, Education Programs Manager Nzila Siabalima, spoke about Plan’s experience as part of the USAID-funded Read to Succeed (RTS) project, led by Creative Associates in Zambia. The RTS program is working to improve the in- and out-of-school environment for students, with a focus on providing psychosocial support to children affected by HIV/AIDS, improving the social environment for girls, and improving school management. She spoke eloquently about the partnerships that have been created between the schools and community. Some of her examples included the creation of reading trees, the training of peer educators, and psychosocial counseling.
The second presenter was Baraki Ambaye, country ECCD coordinator for Plan Ethiopia, who discussed reading materials developed in local languages for girls and boys transitioning from early childhood development programs to primary school. He shared Plan’s experience concerning the critical role of parenting education in children’s development and also the creation of mobile donkey libraries to reach rural communities.
Literacy expert Nicole Lubar from Readsters, a U.S.-based small business presented third. . Her presentation focused on lessons from comparative experiences in the U.S., The Gambia, and Niger in developing reading programs and materials. She shared examples of easy-to-create books that provide early learners with the opportunity to develop their reading ability through decodable texts, which build skills progressively. These books can be used both in the home and at school.
The final presentation by James Gurney, a doctoral student from the University of Georgia, focused on education reforms in Togo, including the differentiation between community and government schools and the implications of these reforms on the population.
Following the presentations, the discussant Josh Muskin from the Brookings Institution wove together themes from the various presentations, provoking the audience with a poignant reminder that reading is much more than a mechanical act and requires a holistic approach involving multiple parties in order for children to grow.