“I Read” campaign promotes literacy in Yemen

By Jillian Slutzker

September 22, 2014

In Yemen, a country where the illiteracy rate is nearly 35 percent and television and radio rather than newspapers are preferred vehicles for information, the Ministry of Education has launched a creative campaign to bolster community support for early grade reading.

The one-month “I Read” campaign, which premiered on Sept. 7 as Yemeni students returned to school, is raising awareness nationwide through public service announcements on 9 TV channels and 14 radio stations about the benefits of literacy for individuals and the country.

“Without education, we will never be able to build our new Yemen,” said Minister of Education Dr. Abdulrazzaq al-Ashwal, who appeared in one of the television announcements. “Active learning can only be achieved if our students master reading and writing skills.”

The campaign’s slogan—“Let’s read because we are a reading nation!”—flashes in Arabic at the end of each announcement.

In its first week, the campaign, which is supported by Creative Associates International’s Community Livelihoods Project, reached more than four million viewers and listeners per day.  Last year, a similar media campaign that ran for four months reached 13.2 million Yemenis, roughly half of the population.

Following notable success in its pilot phase, the USAID-funded project’s flagship early grade literacy program, the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach, expanded from 311 schools in 2013 to 822 schools in 10 governorates by the end of the academic year in May 2014 and reached approximately 236,000 students in first, second and third grades. This school year, the approach will expand to another 206 schools, bringing the total schools participating to 1,028.

The approach uses a phonics-based methodology to improve reading skills by reforming the early grade reading curriculum and strengthening teachers’ capacity to teach reading and writing.

The Ministry of Education has strategically timed this year’s media campaign to align with a further expansion of the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach to schools in 23 governorates as part of its implementation nationwide.

“This launch coincides with the YEGRA scale-up process, and we want everybody, especially parents, to support this program and make it a success,” says al-Ashwal.

In addition to drumming up community backing for the reading initiative, a core message of the campaign is that mastering reading early paves the road for lifelong achievement.

“Reading is the pathway to success,” said Yemeni Judge Afrah Badwellen, Director of Yemen’s Anti-Corruption Authority, reflecting on her own experience of learning how to read at a young age.

“I Read” seeks to appeal to and inspire a broad swath of the population. The campaign features messages and input from many stakeholders in Yemen’s educational sector and respected community figures including Ministry of Education officials, imams, scholars, poets, journalists and media, private sector leaders, educators, students and parents. “I Read” broadcasts are short and culturally-relevant.

In one video, a young boy sits in a circle with other boys at a mosque, fluently reciting Koranic verse.

“Mohammed, you read so fluently!” exclaims his teacher. “Where did you learn how to read?”

“He has learned it in school through the new early grade reading program introduced in schools,” responds his father.

Another video features Fatma, a second-grader from a remote village in Yemen whose adeptness in reading has not only led to her academic success despite her difficult circumstances, but has also made her a role model for the town and a tutor to her peers.

“I learned how to read in grade one,” Fatma beams. “I learned the letter sounds and blending sounds into words.”

With campaign clips airing strategically on television stations at peak viewership times (morning, noon and evening), “I Read” is generating a national buzz around literacy and the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach. The increasingly popular Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach Facebook page has more than 3,000 followers from 24 countries. Followers can also access campaign videos from this page and Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach YouTube site.

Playing an advisory role to the Ministry of Education in strategy and implementation, Creative has a wealth of prior experience leading public awareness media campaigns globally including in Afghanistan, Haiti, Nicaragua, Serbia and Montenegro, the West Bank and Libya.    From voter mobilization to HIV/AIDS education to civic engagement in governance, Creative has supported local organizations and governments in developing and deploying effective messaging on a large-scale basis,

Following a highly successful campaign last year, which was primarily led by Creative, the Ministry of Education is spearheading “I Read” this year as part of a concerted effort to achieve long-term sustainability of the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach under the ministry.

For their part, other ministries involved in the campaign are also thinking forward, placing literacy at the center of Yemen’s growth.

“Let’s teach our children and grandchildren to love reading,” says Nasr Taha Mustafa, Minster of Media. “Reading is food for thought and refinement for the soul and the key to development.”

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