Pakistan Reading Project wins 2020 International Prize for Literacy Program of the Year

by Janey Fugate

The U.S. Library of Congress announced the Pakistan Reading Project as its 2020 recipient of the International Prize for its Literacy Program Awards.

“Receiving the 2020 Literacy Program of the Year Award is recognition of the valued impact the program had in the classroom to strengthen teaching practices, improve student reading skills and increase learning outcomes,” says Drake Warrick, Senior Project Director for Creative’s Education division.

The Library of Congress created the awards in 2013 to honor organizations working to support literacy and reading initiatives domestically and around the world. For PRP, this award recognizes its remarkable results, which will have long lasting effects both on the education system and the individual lives of children and educators.

PRP exceeded its goal of improving reading skills of 1.5 million students in grades 1 and 2.

Delivering education services at scale

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by International Rescue Committee and its partners, including Creative Associates International, World Learning and the Institute of Rural Management, PRP is a national program aimed at improving the quality of elementary level reading education in 23,000 public schools across Pakistan. Creative’s focus was to deliver high-quality teacher education, training and professional development with an explicit focus on teaching reading, as well as to improve the education system through policy support.

Reaching 1.7 million students in grades 1-5, the project provided schools with 7.3 million reading learning materials, trained over 27,000 teachers in teaching reading, set up over 15,000 classroom libraries and trained nearly 12,000 education officials and administrators. Creative served as the technical lead for policy reform and gender at the national level, and pre-service teacher education in Urdu. Creative was also responsible for implementing reading programs in Sindh province, as well as several districts of Urdu.

These efforts showed results. A USAID-commissioned independent early grade reading assessment (EGRA) showed a significant improvement in students’ reading fluency. For example, in Sindh and Urdu, students’ oral reading fluency increased from 30 correct words per minute recorded in 2014 to 57 in 2017, a significant jump.

Creative also facilitated partnerships with the private sector, forging 16 public-private alliances to provide supplies to under-resourced schools. In Sindh, the project team supported schools through training nearly 7,000 teachers and 3,000 education officials, responding to a significant lack in teachers’ knowledge of reading pedagogy.

While policy reform and improving test scores are important advances, children are the heart of Pakistan Reading Project.

An uphill battle

When the project launched, Pakistan was one of the few countries where illiteracy rates were increasing. A Status of Education report in 2013 showed that 49 percent of students in grade 3 could not read sentences in their language of instruction. Girls faced even steeper changes. In Pakistan, only 43.4 percent of girls make it to secondary school and only 25 percent of the total labor force is comprised of women. 

Addressing gender disparities at the primary school level, Pakistan Reading Project laid the groundwork for significant advances in girls’ education. For example, the project worked to increase female representation in Urdu language textbooks from 27 to 47 percent, as well as women’s representation in provincial government committees. Making strides for girls and women’s equality in education is an important legacy for PRP.

“With girl’s education as a focus from day one, Creative’s work with the government to include gender consideration in every aspect of the early grade reading program—from textbooks to teaching methods—has all contributed to changing stereotypes,” says Karen Tietjen, Principal Technical Advisor in Creative’s Education division. “In efforts outside the classroom, over 60 percent of our grant beneficiaries were girls and women.”

PRP worked to change gender stereotypes by increasing girls' representation in textbooks.

As the project draws to a close after seven years working with provincial and national government entities, private sector partners and schools, PRP can now serve as a model for future education projects that deliver high quality education in challenging contexts.

“The dedicated program staff and Ministry of Education officials at the Federal and Provincial levels are what I am most proud of,” says Warrick. “They worked diligently so that the project could succeed at improving education service delivery in Pakistan.”

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