Education quality in rural Zambia has been dismal, especially in regards to literacy. A recent assessment by USAID-funded Let’s Read Zambia shows that 70% of Grade 1-3 students performed at minimum or below minimum levels of proficiency in literacy. Delays in the age and grade at which students attain functional literacy skills make future primary years that much more challenging.
Read Smart is a literacy intervention for early grade learning based on the use of phonetic charts, illustrating the mouth positions associated with each sound. The majority of Zambian children are taught how to read by memorization but Read Smart focuses on using visual aids to teach children how letters sound. It is an explicit phonics program where sound-spelling relationships are directly taught and applied.
The project consists of a preparation period followed by 4 phases of 10 weeks each. In phase 1, students complete activities explicitly connecting mouth charts and letter sounds to accurately pronounce letter sounds. During phase 2, letters are connected to the sounds they make and students learn to read basic words. In phase 3, students practice writing and reading lower case letters with a focus on reading simple sentences. Last, in the final phase, students read basic stories with simple words.
We are scaling Read Smart to 8 Impact schools and almost 1,000 students in 2022. Additionally, we will work within Eastern Province to expand to 3,000 students in early childhood centers, community schools, and government schools in 2023. We want to explore adapting to 1-2 other Zambian languages (Bemba or Tonga) within the next three years. The pilot results indicate that the program is successful at improving literacy outcomes across a diverse audience including both boys and girls, very low income levels, and for students entering school with high academic needs. An external assessment allowed us to compare pilot schools with a national dataset; after the pilot, the proportion of first grade students at desirable / outstanding levels was 75%, compared to 32-35% nationwide.
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