READ II Mobile Hotline Supports Parents and Volunteers to Help Children Learn to Read
By Berihun Ali
Sebata District, Ethiopia — Primary school students in Sebata district were at risk of falling behind reading comprehension benchmarks because the COVID-19 pandemic caused nationwide school closures. USAID’s READ II decided on an tech-savvy solution: a mobile hotline to help students with literacy education.
Bedada Kewocha, 43, father of three children, uses the READ II hotline to ask for support when he helps his children with reading, including sometimes calling trained operators to ask for help pronouncing words and telling stories to them.
The hotline “is very useful. It helps a lot in guiding on how to provide support for my children to learn to read,” he says.
Kewocha, a farmer, didn’t complete primary school and says that he doesn’t want the same for his children who attend third and fourth grade nearby in Sebata district, Oromia region. His third child is still a toddler.
“I do not want my children to live the life I lived. I want them to have a better future, and I believe education is the only way out,” he says.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, READ II five-year program works to better equip teachers with effective early grade reading instruction techniques and materials in seven mother-tongue languages and English, while simultaneously building a culture of reading in the school, home and community. When the COVID 19 came, READ II temporarily adjusted its focus and developed alternate methods to support literacy, such as the hotline. It is implemented with World Vision and Education Development Center.
The USAID-funded READ II mobile hotline was created for Sebata district teachers, volunteer community literacy leaders, parents, and students to get information and advice on how to support students who are learning to read, particularly during the pandemic. The hotline has reached close to 40,000 users and 200,000 calls have been made since April 2020.
Many of those calls have come from parents like Kewocha who have the motivation and commitment to support their children but have been out of school for decades and forgotten everything. Kewocha says that his children have shown more interest in school since the mobile hotline has been established.
“They also tell me that they are actively engaged in the classroom activities, and they are a bit motivated,” he says. “I am grateful for those who prepare this technology and support us.”
Some parents are stepping up to be more involved in their children’s education by not only calling the READ II hotline for support but also attending reading camps. In 2019, USAID-funded reading camps began running in the community but temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Now the mobile hotline provides guidance to parents and volunteers who want to help children read.
“This has helped me not only to support my children’s education but also to have a close relationship with them,” he says.
Mihret Gudisa, 20, is one of the volunteer community literacy leaders in the reading camp where Kewocha’s children attend. Before each camp session begins, Gudisa and other volunteers call the READ II mobile hotline to run through the planned activities and ask for advice on how to properly lead the workshops.
“READ II provides us regular training on how to run the reading camps to help children learn to read,” she says. “But the mobile hotlines are constant reminders and refreshers of the skills and information to properly support children [who are learning to] read,” she says.
Kewocha and other parents regularly attend the volunteer-run reading camps and tell children stories. The hotline has engaged everyone in the community from parents, volunteer community literacy leaders, and teachers to take part in helping students read.
Gudisa says that the hotline is so convenient, easily accessible and supportive that it’s like a “pocket guide [on how] to do things properly,” she says. “We are very happy with the contribution we are providing to the community, and we are grateful for this project’s support.”
“The project has now become a community project,” says Gudisa. “We will continue strengthening our collaboration with the schools and the community to help children learn read and have a better future.”