LIBERIA:

ALP PLUS Reading Contest Increases Use of Learning Center Libraries

February 27, 2009

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Before the Accelerated Learning Program PLUS (ALP PLUS) launched a reading competition in six of Liberia’s most underserved counties, the ALPP Learning Resource Centers (LRCs) were rarely visited.

But thanks to an innovative competition, thousands of Liberians are now using the LRCs, increasing usage by more than 100 percent in just over two months last year. Competition organizers had hoped for a 50 percent increase in users.

The competition also increased parents’ awareness of the LRCs’ resources and motivated them to encourage their children to visit the Centers regularly in the six counties of Montserrado, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Nimba, Lofa and Bong. The LRCs continue to report a significant increase in visitors to its library and computer facilities. By last October, the LRCs were visited by 6,110 people compared to 2,820 in August.

Mardia Warner, Coordinator of ALP PLUS’s Learning Resource Centers’ said: “Teachers have very few resources and the new Learning Resource Centers are one of the first moves to provide a place where teachers and students can learn to use computers and to have access to books.”

ALP PLUS’s successful awareness-raising campaign was developed by Chief of Party, Peggy Poling, whose idea of an innovative reading competition helped generate interest in the Centers and in reading.

Each LRC features 10 computers and a library, which are available free of charge to students and teachers alike, who would otherwise have no access to books or the internet.

After a weeklong radio campaign that promoted the competition, elementary and junior high students registered for the reading and comprehension contest. In Bong County, a total of 100 students (63 elementary and 37 junior high) registered, including 12-year-old Othniel Toomann, a ninth grader, who now visits the Bong County Learning Resource Center to complete homework and to satisfy the love of reading instilled in him at an early age by his parents. Othniel won first place among the 16 finalists in Bong County.

Othniel and the other contestants were provided a four-day orientation that introduced them to the elements of effective speech and helped them prepare answers for the judges’ comprehension skills questions. At the competition, students were allotted 10 minutes to read a passage of their choosing and then answer judges’ questions for five minutes that focused on reading comprehsion. Contestants were also required to read audibly and were judged on the correct pronunciation of words.

Many parents who attended the Bong County contest were pleased their children had this opportunity and noted that it was the first time they had heard of such a competition.

“I have never had access to public libraries before the LRC library opened,” Othniel said. “The LRC library is my first public library and it is a great help to me and my friends because it helps us in so many ways.”

ALP PLUS focuses on providing accelerated learning classes to over-age students 10 to 18, and out-of-school youth ages 15 to 35, to enable them to complete the six-year elementary school curriculum in three years. The project also provides Life Skills training to youth entering the workforce while others are reintegrated into the local school system.

Now in its third year of implementation, ALP PLUS is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and managed by Creative Associates International, Inc. of Washington, D.C.

— Alexandra Pratt in Washington, D.C. and Mardia Warner, of the ALP PLUS Team in Monrovia.

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