September 7, 2021
Despite increased funding for early grade reading over the past decades, more than 175 million children globally do not have access to pre-primary education, according to the World Bank. Lack of early education facilities, along with ongoing school closures due to COVID-19, have compounded the problem. For children who are deaf, the challenge is exacerbated by a lack of deaf language materials, play activities, and reading opportunities within a deaf child’s family that cannot sign. This results in language deprivation and learning delays even before children start school.
Three organizations addressing those challenges using EdTech solutions were today named winners of the Ready2Read Challenge, a global competition of All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development. The awardees proposed solutions grounded in Universal Design for Learning that support parents, teachers, and facilitators with resources and tools to narrow the gap in early childhood learning, including those exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Asia Foundation (TAF), ILC Africa, and Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) were each awarded $150,000 or more to help children ages 3 to 6 to build foundational language and literacy skills at home and at school in low-resource countries.
The Asia Foundation
The Asia Foundation’s Ready2Read and Play project will use their Let’s Read program to train community mobilizers as early childhood education facilitators. In partnership with Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), TAF will engage children and their families through 30 weekly, in-person sessions aligned with the Government of Nepal’s curriculum. Messaging apps will be used to enable continuous coaching in between learning sessions.
“Ready2Read and Play uses a holistic approach that helps prepare children for school and develops social, emotional, and executive functions, a foundational aspect of quality early childhood education,” said Melody Zavala, senior director of TAF’s Books for Asia. “Our community-based program meets families where they are, offering coaching and support and digital and print books in ways that narrow, rather than widen, the digital divide.”
By the project’s end, “we hope children, families, and community outreach workers participating in the program experience satisfaction in their ability to take small, enjoyable actions – like engaging with books together and asking questions – to set children up for success in school,” said Meghan Nalbo, TAF’s Nepal country representative.
“We also anticipate that participating families will become early adopters in their communities, sparking the curiosity of friends and neighbors to take similar actions,” she said.
ILC Africa, in conjunction with Amplio Network and the Association of Early Childhood Development in Malawi (AECDM) will introduce Amplio Talking Book into 50 early childhood education centers in Malawi to develop pre-literacy skills in children ages 3 to 5. The Talking Book is a sustainable, battery-powered audio device that can deliver hours of content on demand in rural areas. ILC Africa will adapt Malawi’s early childhood development curriculum into individual lessons uploaded to the Talking Books, enabling students and families to listen and learn together in local languages.
“The Talking Books will help build child literacy during the project period, but also for subsequent years as they will be left in the communities,” said Ahmed Satti, ILC Africa’s director of external affairs. “Furthermore, our proposal directly addresses the children’s environments by integrating the talking books into daily lives, building the capacities of teachers and community members, and changing attitudes towards the importance of early childhood education.”
By the completion of the project, he said, “We hope that the project overall improves not only literacy levels for the children, but also gives the parents, caregivers, and teachers involved a better appreciation of the importance of developing literacy skills at an early age and the support through time and resources needed for this to happen.”
Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Through its Project TREE (Transforming Reading in Early Education) for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, RIT/NTID will produce Sign Language Rhythm and Rhyme, an innovative way to play with language visually, and a set of Shared Multilingual Reading Strategies for young deaf and hard-of-hearing children and their families. The project will also provide training to deaf trainers in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines, who will collaborate with RIT/NTID in developing training and intervention modules.
“This work is rooted in multimodal literacy, promoting both visual and auditory languages as equal,” said Patrick Graham, department chair for graduate deaf education teacher preparation at RIT/NTID. “Parents and children will be able to embrace both deaf and hearing cultures, and embark on a journey to become literate in multiple languages and modes.”
When deaf and hard-of-hearing children are not excluded from education and gain foundational language and learning skills, “it will open multiple doors for their future,” he said.
By the project’s end, Graham says he hopes to see “multiple perspectives on what it means to be human. For many years, deaf children have been extremely marginalized, and there were lowered expectations on the abilities of these children. We hope this project will help remove [those reduced] expectations.”
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