Why Our Schools Are Failing- Part 4
Helping to Change Our Schools by Increasing Literacy – Part 4
The Amarok Society project in Dhaka Bangladesh is a microscopic version of what might become a literacy epidemic. The environment had most, if not all, of the required conditions;
- A fledgling Connector - me
- A Maven – Dr. Tanyss Munro – an expert in international literacy
- A Salesman – G.E.M. Munro – an author, speaker and event manager
- A situation – desperate poverty being alleviated by a simple grass roots literacy initiative,
- Infected individuals –Rotarians who support their efforts with funds and awareness and an ever growing band of women teaching other women and their children basic literacy skills.
The jury is still out on whether or not this initiative will go viral, but at least it is functioning and expanding at the moment. It is inexpensive to operate because it does not rely on having bricks and mortar. It is portable and could be used in any other country.
A Local Initiative – A Failed Example
- Because of my literacy background, I was tagged by my Rotary club to create a literacy committee and a project to roll out into our local community.
- I formed a committee and started with a project that was suggested by our International Rotary President. It was a computer-based reading program ostensibly successful with adolescents and adults. We partnered with our local library, our local Welfare agency. Our Rotary club supplied the volunteers. Initially the program seemed to work, but within weeks, despite everyone’s efforts, the welfare clients we were serving quit.
- Follow up interviews indicated that they found the computer program childish and demeaning and refused to attend further sessions.
- We did have a more successful summer school program for children, but they too dropped out as soon as school started even though they could access the program from their home computers. So unless the program produces immediate and significant results, it is not going to begin an epidemic.
- Back to the drawing board.
A Second Local Initiative
- My committee had already decided that any and all of our literacy projects would involve instruction in reading, not being read to, not providing books, dictionaries, or other materials, but rather getting knee to knee with a child and actually teaching that child to read. In our second effort, we partnered with an outreach church and later with our local YMCA, as well as with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and a community after-school program.
- Our Rotary club would supply the instructional materials, the tutors, their training and their supervision. The church and the Y.M.C.A would supply the space, some tutors if possible and the students, drawn from the underprivileged families that they served. Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the after-school program partners failed spectacularly by never referring a single student from their caseloads over a two year time span despite several requests..
- Despite this, within 3 years the program has grown from three to twenty five children, from three to twenty plus tutors and has consistently taught children a year’s worth of reading in one-hour sessions during the school year, approximately 40 hours of tutoring. Despite its rapid growth, the Belleville Rotary Each One-Teach One literacy project has not yet attracted the connectors or the salespeople who would cause it to spread to other agencies, clubs or communities. That is the current largest challenge which we are attempting to resolve.
The Failure of Current Community Literacy Programs
Almost every community of any size has a volunteer literacy agency or program. These are sometimes associated with the local library, a church or a service club. From the publication of A Nation at Risk, more than 20 years ago, there has been no significant reduction of illiteracy across the Western Hemisphere.
This is true despite the efforts of thousands of local organizations involved in teaching adolescents and adults to become literate. One of the major factors for this failure is a lack of continuity in literacy programs. Many are staffed by well-meaning volunteers who have no specific program to follow and no specific measures to determine student progress. This is further by the frequent change in tutors. Most programs are not sufficiently designed so that any one tutor knows what the previous tutor did or did not do in any real detail. The result is overlap, gaps and confusion for the student. Seeing little or no progress quickly, the student gives up the program as just one more meaningless attempt to teach him or her to read and diminishes their willingness to subject themselves to the process of learning again.
Programs which are not seamless in their instruction and in the tracking of students’ performances and results are doomed to fail as they have for the past few decades. Programs in which any tutor is able to step into any situation with a student because they are trained in a consistent, comprehensive, well-ordered program are the bare necessity of what is required for literacy remediation with adolescents and adults. The program must also generate visible success to the student from the get-go in order to demonstrate to the student that this is different than any previous attempts s/he has been involved with. It also has to look and feel age appropriate for the learner.
The reason our first attempt failed was not because the program was not organized and orderly, but because it affronted the sensitivities of the adult students who felt that they were back in elementary school.
The success of the local Each One –Teach One program is due to the fact that every tutor teaches the same lessons the same way and could if necessary substitute for any other tutor without missing a beat. The program also shows daily performance results so that the student can see their progress immediately at the end of the session.
The materials are age appropriate with one set of materials for younger students and an equivalent set of the same level of materials for older students and adults.
Without these features, the environment will not be sufficiently change quickly enough to keep the student involved.
The optimistic news it that anyone who can read can teach another person to read, if they learn and follow the steps in the training. The possibility of creating large numbers of quality tutors quickly exists because the training is posted on a website and can be accessed any time, by anyone anywhere who can get on to the Internet.
Proof of that fact lies in the successes of thousands of homeschool moms and dads who have purchased the programs by mail, do the training independently and report satisfaction and success when they order the next level of the literacy program. They got a package of books in the mail, a link to a website and a 1-800 help line to call in case of problems. It rarely rings.