Literacy Interventions in Low Resource Environments:
An International Perspective. ERIC Digest.
by Singh, Manjari
While much attention is currently being focused on classroom-based practices
that increase literacy acquisition, many supportive literacy initiatives
continue to be implemented outside the classroom. Given the presence of
similar contextual elements in most low resource educational environments,
examining interventions that support students' literacy in different parts
of the world can illuminate common issues and provide relevant insights.
This digest presents a description of three innovative interventions designed
to support student literacy acquisition outside the classroom in low resource
LITERACY RELATED ISSUES IN LOW RESOURCE ENVIRONMENTS
Article 1 of The World Declaration on Education for All (Inter-Agency
Commission, 1990), reaffirmed the global community's commitment to provide
an education where:
"Every person-child, youth, adult-shall be able to benefit from educational
opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs. These needs
comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression,
numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as
knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be
able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in
dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of
their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The
scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual
countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time."
The commitment to ensuring literacy for all was reiterated by countries
at international meetings throughout the 1990's, and again at the World
Education Forum held in Dakar in 2000. Yet, it is currently estimated that
about twenty percent of world's population aged fifteen and above is illiterate
and that about 115.4 million school-age children are not in school (UNESCO,
2002). Besides non-school enrollment by millions of children, two other
issues of concern are school drop-out and completion of school without
acquiring functional literacy (Lievesley and Motivans, 2000).
While the majority of children who are not acquiring a basic education
live in developing countries, it is a matter of increasing concern that
a significant number of these children and youth live in impoverished sections
of industrialized nations (International Institute for Educational Planning,
1997). In a comparison of child poverty in twenty-three of the worlds richest
countries (comprising the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
or the OECD), Adamson, Micklewright, and Wright (2000) found child poverty
rates to range from under 3% to more than 25% and that approximately one
in six children live in poverty.
In a recent Innocenti Report (UNICEF, 2000), it was found that in OECD
nations children's educational achievement is strongly linked to the "occupation,
education, and economic status" of their parents (p. 2); that non-native
children tended to be particularly disadvantaged in some countries (p.
17); and children of less educated mothers tended to have lower reading
levels (p. 22). Also, in many developing countries and low resource educational
settings in the industrialized world, the language of school-based instruction
is not the same as the language students speak at home.
Irrespective of geographical region, schools located in poor communities
and characterized by low levels of children's academic achievement have
certain common features. As stated in the U.S. Department of Education's
1998 report on Turning Around Low-Performing Schools, "many low-performing
schools are located in impoverished communities where family distress,
crime, and violence are prevalent" (Executive Summary section, paragraph
2). Also, educational contexts characterized by low levels of student literacy
present high-stress teaching-learning environments as they are often crowded,
have poor quality school facilities, lack well qualified teachers, and
have teachers and administrators who have low expectations of students.
Thus, children living in poverty tend to go to schools that are poorly
resourced and receive a poor-quality education that does not help them
break free of their disadvantaged backgrounds.
In order to support disadvantaged children's academic success in school,
communities around the world have adopted a variety of creative and effective
literacy interventions. A profile of a few such interventions is presented
READING CLUBS IN NIGERIA
Informal initiatives that support literacy in the language of instruction
in schools by making relevant and interesting reading materials accessible
to community members offer a valuable resource that supplements the formal
educational system. One important example is Onukaogu's (1999) description
of a Nigerian grassroots initiative where reading clubs were conducted
by a local organization called The Center of Excellence for Literacy and
Literacy Education (CELLE). Based on student and community interest in
acquiring literacy in English, school teachers and university faculty functioned
as facilitators to provide opportunities for literacy empowerment of primary
school-age children, newly literate adults, as well as adults from secondary
schools and universities who were already mature readers. The goal of the
reading clubs was not only to foster language skills in reading, writing,
listening and speaking, but to provide opportunities for critical thinking,
questioning, and building self-esteem through group-based reading-writing
activities. While facilitators offered each group options in reading, writing
and activities according to their interests, they also facilitated critical
literacy and supported family literacy activities between parents and children
INVOLVING PARENTS IN CHILDREN'S LITERACY IN AUSTRALIA
Another interesting example of a supportive literacy intervention program
described by Cairney and Munsie (1995) is The Talk to a Literacy Learner
(TTALL), which was implemented in an elementary school located in an urban
suburb of Sydney, Australia where the local community was characterized
by a low level of educational participation, high levels of crime and unemployment,
problems with drug use, and also high levels of family breakdown. In their
article, the authors demonstrate TTALL's effectiveness in making meaningful
connections between schools and parents in a troubled, low resource setting.
(This program was also implemented in a hundred other schools in New South
The goal of TTALL was to engage and assist parents in their children's
reading and writing, and it was implemented in three stages. In phase I
parents who were interested in interacting more effectively in their children's
literacy acquisition process were identified and trained. In phase II these
parents were trained to be literacy tutors in the school, and then in Phase
III to become community tutors who would introduce other parents to TTALL
strategies in their own homes. In describing program outcomes at the end
of the initial year-long implementation phase, Cairney and Munsie found
qualitative gains in children's literacy levels. Children not only reported
finding school work less difficult, but were also observed to select and
read a range of materials at higher reading levels and to have increased
their confidence in themselves as readers and writers. They also observed
notable outcomes among the parents, who had not only developed a repertoire
of effective strategies to assist their children's literacy development,
but who felt more confident, and had begun to take a greater level of interest
in the school and its activities.
In a more recent Australian study, Lawson (2000) explained how parental
involvement in literacy could be further improved by going beyond the kind
of initiative described by Cairney and Munsie. Lawson recommends recognizing
parental insights about literacy that may be very different from those
proposed within schools and recognizing the need to learn from families
who may see home-based literacy practices as being distinct from school
based literacy. She suggests that rather than developing literacy support
programs that use a common script both in the school and home, home-school
relationships can be "mutually supportive" and "harmonious" (p. 4) if they
build on the different elements of literacy practiced in the home and the
PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM FAILURE THROUGH OUT-OF-SCHOOL PROGRAMS IN
THE UNITED STATES
While the Australian initiative described above built on parent knowledge
and interest in children's literacy, Query and Hausafus (1998) report on
a program developed to shield elementary and middle school students from
factors that contribute to school failure and to assist them in improving
their academic performance. This long term project conducted in a low income
area of Des Moines, Iowa was implemented over approximately two years,
and involved 507 students in: long-term after school sports and recreational
programs; summer camps designed to increase students reading, writing,
math, and science literacy; field trips; job shadowing opportunities for
middle school students; and mentoring programs where students developed
a long-term relationship with a caring adult. During implementation, both
qualitative data (in the form of observation forms, journals, teacher and
parent surveys) and quantitative data (in the form of grades on student
report cards) was collected on participants. In a case study of nine participating
elementary students, records maintained over the two years indicated their
academic achievement levels had improved. Mentors and tutors identified
improvements in student behavior and attitudes as well as in their social
skills, self-esteem and problem solving. It was also noted that during
the course of interventions, students had developed a close and supportive
relationship with a peer, a caring adult, as well as some community members.
These positive changes occurred along with a reduction in the number of
times students had been in trouble in school and at home.
As the above examples indicate, involving students in out-of-school
based literacy activities that connect them with their communities and
enrich their day-to-day lives can play a key role in literacy skills acquisition
in school. While contextual factors always need to be taken into account
in designing and implementing interventions to develop children's literacy
skills, insights obtained from projects across the world can be used to
enrich local implementation.
Adamson, P., Micklewright, J., & Wright, A. (2000). A league table
of child poverty in rich nations (Innocenti Report Card, Issue No. 1).
Florence, Italy: UNICEF. [ED 442 911]
Cairney, T. H., & Munsie, L. (1995). Parent participation in literacy
learning. The Reading Teacher, 48(5), 392-403. [EJ 498 787]
Department of Education. (1998, May). Turning around low-performing
schools: A guide for state and local leaders. Retrieved December 16, 2002,
Inter-Agency Commission. (1990). World declaration on education for
all and framework for action to meet basic learning needs. New York: UNICEF.
International Institute for Educational Planning. (1997). Alternative
education strategies for disadvantaged groups. Paris: UNESCO.
Lawson, J. (2000, December). Be it ever so humble: Home-school congruence
and literacy for poor kids. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
Australian Association of Research in Education, Sydney, Australia. [ED
Lievesley, D., & Motivans, A. (2000). Taking literacy seriously.
Retrieved December 16, 2002, from http://www.uis.unesco.org/en/news/news_p/news8.htm
Onukaogu, C.E. (1999). Enhancing reading clubs in Nigeria: the CELLE's
experience. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 43(1), 68-78. [EJ
Query, S. L., & Hausafus, C. O. (1998). Promoting literacy in at-risk
youth: Protective factors and academic achievements. New York: Garland
UNESCO. (2002). Education for all: Is the world on track? Paris: Author.
UNICEF. (2000). A league table of educational disadvantage in rich nations.
(Innocenti Report Card, Issue No. 4). Florence, Italy: Author.
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