Successful Completion of the Engro Reading Program in Partnership with USAID
Primary education is the largest sub-sector of any education system, and offers the unique opportunity to contribute to the transformation of societies through education of the young. Nonetheless, reading interventions have not been given due priority in Pakistan as a result of little budgetary consideration, a lack of teacher training, and minimum parental participation in developing the education sector. With a population of over 200 million persons, Pakistan has a literacy rate of 56%, with more than 70% of primary school children unable to read at the appropriate grade level, and a quarter of primary school teachers with no training whatsoever.
In lieu of governmental implementation gaps, Engro Foundation initiated the rural Adopted Schools Program for primary education in the year 2004, by adopting 13 government schools and enrolling 1,600 children annually in the neighboring impoverished communities of Ghotki. In 2015, the Foundation launched the Engro Reading Program (ERP), funded by USAID, to build the reading capacities of its 1,600+ primary school students from classes 1-5 in the 3 languages of English, Urdu, and Sindhi. Over the course of 18 months, the project was able to establish 13 computer labs: to achieve its goals, the Foundation harnessed the power of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) via Computer-assisted instruction (CAI), providing different ways of delivering, watching, hearing, and enhancing language skills via a combination of off-line and on-line applications and software.
By establishing Learning Resource Centers (LRCs) in each school to include a library and computer lab, Engro hopes to continue to build quality driven foundational skills for effective primary education: each class from 1-5 had separate reading modules and resources, complemented by summer and winter reading camps for children and their parents. Through this program, Engro prioritized the value of education in the home and community environment: community engagement was fostered via “talking stories” and storytelling interventions, narrated by parents, grandparents, and older siblings alike, and thereafter played for children to encourage the pronunciation of words. School Management Committees (SMCs) were also be established to build student reading capacity by identifying parental representatives as stakeholders, to take ownership of and contribute to sustainable learning outcomes. A total of 78 community sessions were held during the life cycle of the project, and 65 stories collected from across communities for distribution in schools and across the education department.
In addition, Learning Resource Centers (LRCs) were used to provide adult literacy programs for 200+ women from surrounding communities. Parental engagement is critical to learning outcomes for a child: research has proved that there is close coherence between the meaning of education to parents and students’ learning achievements, i.e., if education is regarded as valuable in the family, there is a great possibility that children will have high learning achievements. This link is especially relevant for low income children, because they tend to have home and school environments that are less conducive to early reading development relative to those of higher income children.
It is widely recognized that meeting education goals require not only investment in children, but also in teachers, which are the most important resource for improved learning: a lack of trained teachers presents a major obstacle in carrying out tasks effectively. ERP interventions therefore also included teacher training programs for 65+ teachers to ensure sustainability, and Learning Circle platforms for teachers to share best practices, all of which is absolutely essential to program outcomes so as to maximize the impact and effectiveness of future efforts. Teacher training took place on how to develop Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA) and enhance reading at the primary school level through modular developments, inclusive of refresher trainings to total approximately 4,000+ training man hours.
These interventions were hailed as a success upon project completion in the 2nd quarter of 2017, with a 60% improvement in the reading capacities of all 1,600+ students over the academic year. At Engro, we recognize that improved learning outcomes cannot result solely from the efforts of public employees, but rather from the networked efforts of governments, parents, community organizations, and the private sector. It is through such interweaving of diverse interests that educational quality, relevance and sustainability is more likely to emerge, with particular focus on early grade reading improvement as the foundation for future learning.