New policy brings designated reading time to Pakistan schools

By Noman Manzoor

November 30, 2016

“This is the best time we wait for! I love reading!”

Alia, grade 2 student, Islamabad

Islamabad, Pakistan — Over 227,000 young readers from 8,180 schools are getting more support and practice than ever before thanks to a new policy that designates reading time in public schools.

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Pakistan Reading Project, provincial and regional education departments have agreed to allocate specific reading instruction time in project intervention schools. This policy initiative will facilitate school management to use this time for imparting reading skills to early grade children.

The USAID-funded Pakistan Reading Project aims to support the provincial and regional departments of education throughout Pakistan to improve the reading skills of 1.3 million children in first and second grades. The Pakistan Reading Project works through three components – teacher education, policy reforms and community engagement – to support children in acquiring reading skills.

The project, implemented by the International Rescue Committee and its partners, Creative Associates International, World Learning, and the Institute of Rural Management, has equipped teachers with best practices and tools for teaching reading and has provided culturally sensitive Teaching and Learning Materials to enhance student reading skills.

PRP-Reading-Time-300x225 Aligned with international best practices, the Pakistan Reading Project advocated for the inclusion of time specifically devoted to reading instruction. The project worked with each provincial and regional government to issue official notifications to school authorities to implement an average of 30 minutes of reading time daily.

“The project team is encouraged to realize that thousands of children across 38 districts of Pakistan will now have the opportunity to improve their reading skills at school on a daily basis,” says Naeem Sohail, Ph.D., Deputy Chief of Party for the project.

To ensure success and sustainability, the project intervention is carried out by the government of Pakistan from the policy level to the community —involving the Secretaries of Education, regional and district education officers, head teachers and primary school teachers.

Education officials are avidly supporting the new reading time policy and working to ensure its success.

“I ensure that reading time allocation will be implemented in the entire district, and Mirpur will be the model district in terms of achieving project targets efficiently,” says Rashid Turab, District Education Officer of Mirpur.

To ensure successful implementation of the new reading time policy, the project team conducted school visits to monitor how allotted reading time is observed on the ground.

The government of Pakistan plans to integrate reading time into the scheme of primary studies to ensure that it is universally practiced in all classes. With this process, the project team hopes that primary students will continue their education and will not drop out of the system because of reading deficiencies.

Research proves reading time makes a difference

Schools across Pakistan are posting timetables that integrate reading time into the lesson schedule. Photo by Pakistan Reading Project field staff.

Research from around the world on reading shows that adequate time to practice reading is crucial for learning how to read. Most countries with high literacy rates allocate up to 60 minutes per day for reading lessons.

Developed by teachers who believed that not all children learn in the same way, the Four Blocks Literacy Model suggests that teachers should practice four areas of reading instruction—guided reading, self-selected reading, writing, and working with words—for better learning in early grades.

Recent research emphasizes the significance of reading and has declared reading time a sixth component of reading in addition to the five existing components—phonemic awareness, phonics, reading vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

While reading time in schools and independent free reading have both been found to correlate with better performance, both have been a challenge in Pakistan.

While grade one and two students have typically received six 40-minute language lessons periods per week, learning how to read has not been the primary focus of this time. To date, reading has been treated as only one component of language instruction.

Outside of school, few students have access to books to practice reading. In impoverished areas where many students live, there are no libraries and there is often no culture of reading.

Big changes in the classroom

Schools in all six Pakistan Reading Project target regions and provinces – Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Jammu Kashmir – have now started implementing allocated reading time, prominently displaying reading timetables throughout the classrooms and halls.  Since the new reading time policy began, young readers are reporting some exciting changes in their classroom routine.

“This is the best time we wait for!” says Alia, a second grade student in Islamabad. “I love reading! I have watched many animated movies, but I always wanted to read them. Now I get the opportunity to read.”

Teachers are also noticing some significant differences in their students and a boost in student learning across reading skill areas.

“Now students are taking more interest in phonics, and their identification of letters has improved. They wait for Urdu reading period and are showing keen interest,” says Abdul Qadeer Mughal, a primary school teacher at Mosque School, Kacher Paira in Hattian district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

In the new designated reading instruction time, teachers are re-energizing reading instruction and assessment, and bringing in techniques and skills gained through project trainings to get students more engaged in reading.

“Now we are much more focused on reading in the allocated time,” says Muhammad Umer, a teacher at Government Boys Primary School, Shafee Shah Street, Quetta in Balochistan. “Students all across wait for this period as they love reading aloud, sky writing and tapping exercises.”

Noman Manzoor is the Communications & Reporting Manager for the Pakistan Reading Project/Creative

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