Educators and community open doors for young Afghans with early grade reading
By Ashley Williams
August 15, 2019
Haseeba is only in third grade, but she confidently recites poems and short stories from her new textbook. Her favorite is a well-known story in Afghanistan about an intelligent crow that dropped pebbles into a jar so the water would rise and he could drink.
She says this clever fable taught her about working hard and that, “if we study, we will get what we want.”
Haseeba is one of more than 400,00 students in four provinces of Afghanistan who are benefitting from the Afghan Children Read project. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the project is working under the leadership of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education to develop and implement an early grade reading model.
According to The World Bank, only 38 percent of adults and 58 percent of youth ages 15-24 in Afghanistan are literate — one of the lowest rates in the world.
The five-year project is piloting new approaches and research in 1,149 public schools and community-based education classes to lay the groundwork for teaching and learning that allows students to master foundational literacy skills. Project staff and Afghan education officials developed engaging early grade reading curricula and materials in Dari and Pashto, and then trained teachers to confidently use them in their classrooms.
As of the first quarter of 2019, the program has trained 6,802 teachers and reached 402,232 students.
For the last 17 years, Haseeba’s teacher Azizia Rasulian has been teaching grades one through three in Herat at the same school she attended as a child.
“Many changes have taken place,” says Rasulian. “The new curriculum requires lots of activities and hard work … Students have become very intelligent and clever.”
Rasulian speaks particularly highly of Haseeba.
“One day, she came over to me and said that she would read a poem … When she read, I realized that she was talented. I very much encouraged her and told her that she had the talent to learn good and instructive poems. Now, Haseeba has the first position in reading poems at this school,” says Rasulian.
The new, colorful books created by Afghan Children Read use evidence-based strategies to promote early grade reading. This includes a basis in phonics, illustrations to help with comprehension and an easy-to-use teacher guidebook.
Supporting teachers so students can learn
A guidebook complementing the student book is just one way the project supports teachers. There are also workshops and a system of coaching and mentoring in place that trains teachers, headmasters, academic supervisors and Teacher Education Directorate and Ministry of Education staff to carry out classroom visits to evaluate learning progress and provide teachers with on-site support. These visits provide teachers with constructive feedback on how they can better implement the material to get students engaged and learning.
“In the past when I sometimes went to classes … I would see that one student is reading her notebook, another one is drawing lines, the other one is trying to sleep, everyone was in their own world,” says Sema Behzad, principal of another school in Herat where Afghan Children Read is being piloted. Now everything has become very organized, minute by minute the teacher knows what she must do and the student is also waiting for the teacher’s next move.”
The project has trained 2,000 coaches and mentors who have made more than 20,000 classroom visits, helping local teachers succeed in their schools.
Focus on family to encourage learning
An important part of improving students’ ability to learn has been involving their parents and communities who can reinforce a commitment to education outside of the classroom. With low adult literacy rates, it is important that parents understand how they can participate in their child’s education, regardless of their own ability to read.
Afghan Children Read’s methodology and coaching invites educators to reach out to families and encourage them to support their children’s education.
“I invited Haseeba’s mother and told her that Haseeba is a very intelligent and clever girl, so help her,” says Haseeba’s teacher Rasulian. “Haseeba’s mother always comes, asks about us and enquires about her daughter, and Haseeba’s sisters come to the class and ask about her.”
These visits are paying off. Haseeba’s five siblings and parents are all helping her with her studies so she can work toward her dream of being a doctor.
“I want to treat sick people. I want our country to become healthy. If I read my lessons, I can become a doctor,” says Haseeba.