Sharing a good book, one word at a time

By Maggie Farrand

September 6, 2013

A year ago, Abrar Ali couldn’t read a word of Arabic. Now she is reading her favorite book aloud at a school assembly.

Abrar Ali stood nervously in front of five hundred students at morning assembly. Holding her favorite book in her hands, she opened it to the first page, and shared the story with her classmates.

A year ago, Abrar – a first grader at the Al-Mutasem school in Yemen – could not read a single word. Today, she actively participates in her school’s morning assembly presentations, meant to showcase students’ abilities and reinforce the importance of reading.

Abrar’s story is not unique. In fact, a 2011 assessment revealed that almost one third of third-graders in Yemen were not able to read a single word.

In partnership with Yemen’s Ministry of Education, Creative’s USAID-funded Community Livelihoods Program is addressing these dismally low literacy rates.

Using the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach (YEGRA), teachers learn more successful ways to teach children reading and writing skills, receive ongoing training, and get guidance and support in creating effective curriculums and teaching materials.

During the 2012 academic year, more than 3,000 teachers were trained in YEGRA. They are already reporting improvements in their students’ interest in reading and progress in achieving literacy.

“Since YEGRA was introduced, I have noticed a great change in my student’s interaction,” says a first grade teacher at a participating school. “They now interact with me during the lesson, they enjoy stories and they even act out the stories.”

The program has reached more than 93,000 students in grades one through three.

But YEGRA doesn’t stop at teachers and students. It also loops in parents, organizing frequent meetings and encouraging them to read with their children at home. In fact, some parents who had previously been illiterate are learning to read Arabic right alongside their children.

“I read with my children at home, and I am happy to learn from the YEGRA books,” says Om Akram, a mother of three. “I am personally learning to read Arabic from the YEGRA materials, and I am now motivated to teach other women.”

At the Al-Mutasem School morning assembly, Abrar is not the only superstar. She is joined by Mohammd Abdulqadir, a third-grader who emigrated from Somalia, who also shares his favorite story with the audience.

Just like Abrar, one year ago he could not read in Arabic. After a year of schooling and intense study in reading, he is seeing improvements. He is now teaching his parents to read, too.

Reporting was contributed by Salwa Al-Azzani.

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