We must transform literacy spaces to end learning poverty

Communities across the world are celebrating the International Literacy Day today. This day is observed annually to raise awareness of the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. Various activities are taking place across the world to emphasize the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. This year, this day is celebrated under the theme, “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces” and offers an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all. Literacy is the ability to read information in a way that allows us to effectively communicate with other people, take an active role as citizens in society, and further develop our knowledge and skills.

It is the foundation of learning. Learning directly facilitates people’s growth and development through helping them achieve fulfilment in their lives and careers. Literacy skills are all the skills
needed for reading and writing, including listening and speaking. Reading skills contribute to children’s reading ability and determines how well they can read and understand what they are reading. Reading is an important skill that transcends to adult life. In our day-to-day life, we need reading skills to be able to understand important work documents, contracts, and emails among others.

At Bridge, literacy is at the core of our work. All our programmes are designed to ensure that our pupils attain the literacy skills required to make them competitive learners and empower
them to deepen their learning independently both inside and outside the classroom. For seven consecutive years since 2015, our pupils have outperformed their peers in the Kenya Certificate
of Primary Education exams.

Transforming literacy spaces

In line with UNESCO’s call to transform literacy learning spaces, we have ensured that our literacy learning systems are agile enough to withstand the challenges and shocks of modern times. In 2020, learning all over the world took a tumble from the compulsory closure of schools and the more general effects of the pandemic. At Bridge, our technology powered learning model
enabled us to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic. We created a remote learning platform, keeping thousands of children learning through over 800 virtual WhatsApp classrooms and a mobile phone-based interactive quiz system available to pupils in urban and hard-to-reach areas. To date, the learning platform compliments classroom learning and is open to public for free access.

To transform literacy learning spaces, we have to invest in our teachers. In Sub-Sahara Africa, many children are attending school today but are not learning. The World Bank has called this a
learning poverty. Learning poverty is pervasive around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries. It is an indicator of the extent to which pupils cannot read with a minimum degree of comprehension. Before the pandemic, over half of all pupils in low- and middle-income countries could not read with comprehension. Estimates indicate that close to 2 in 3 pupils
ended up in learning poverty after school closures. In Sub-Saharan Africa, almost 9 in 10 are in learning poverty.

The learning poverty has partly been linked to inadequate teacher training and qualifications. Teachers are the bedrock of learning. When teachers are qualified and well supported, they are empowered to prepare children for early learning. At Bridge, we believe that strong teachers change lives. We train and empower our teachers by availing resources that enable them to
teach effectively and material that is designed to help children learn. We provide teachers with technology to use in the classroom, not only for accessing and teaching their lessons, but also for keeping track of pupil performance and attendance data.

The technology is a supplemental tool that allows teachers to maximise the learning time and also support teachers who would otherwise struggle. Our induction training provides teachers with ample opportunities to acquaint themselves with this technology and to be prepared to use it effectively in the classroom. The vast majority of children with weak reading outcomes have the potential to become proficient readers with better instruction and teaching methodology. Professor Michael Kremer of the University of Chicago proves this in a recent independent study where he found out that grade 1 pupils in Bridge International Academies are more than three times as likely to be able to read as their peers in other schools.

The study finds that after two years, primary school pupils in Bridge International Academies are nearly a whole additional year of learning ahead of children taught using standard methods.
For pre-primary pupils, children gain nearly an additional year and half, learning in two years what children in other schools learn in three and a half years. The study by Professor Michael Kremer shows that the Bridge methodology has the potential to produce dramatic learning gains at scale, and can be the solution to the learning poverty if replicated widely.

Modern day literacy skills

As we mark the International Literacy Day, let us remember that modern-day society is dominated by the use of technology. To thrive in this digital age, we need digital literacy skills. Such skills empower people to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is increasingly through digital technologies like internet platforms, social
media, and mobile devices. Information and digital literacy skills are all essential for children to learn. In the modern world, we receive information through various channels all the time.

It important for children to learn how to digest this information, evaluate it, and use it to form and share their own thoughts and opinions. Teaching these types of literacy skills prepare children for life outside of school and beyond their education. The skills are needed to communicate with others and understand the world around us. These are basic skills that many of us now take for granted, but it is important to nourish these skills and help children to become fully literate adults.