Yemen: National workshop pledges support to reading

By Munazza Siddiqui and Salwa al-Azzani

September 2, 2014

Sana’a, Yemen—More than 100 participants, from Yemen’s Ministry of Education, the U.S. Agency for International Development, international implementing partners and literacy program coordinators met in Sana’a on Aug. 11-12 to celebrate the success of the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach (YEGRA) program over the last two years.

Highlighting YEGRA’s proven success in his inaugural address at the scale-up event, USAID Mission Director for Yemen, Herbie Smith, commended the program for its dramatic results in 383 schools across seven governorates during its six-month pilot period, Nov. 2012 to May 2013. “On average, students in grade one YEGRA schools went from knowing the sounds of five letters to knowing the sounds of 18 letters after only four months of teaching the new program,” said Smith.

The YEGRA program is part of the Community Livelihoods Project a USAID-funded intervention implemented by Creative Associates International. Partnering with the technical experts from Yemen’s Ministry of Education, the Community Livelihoods Project developed and implemented the innovative program, which uses a multidisciplinary methodology to improve reading skills by reforming the early grade reading curriculum and strengthening teachers’ capacity to teach reading and writing.

In a 2011 USAID assessment, the average grade three student was only able to correctly read 12 words per minute, and 27 percent of these children were unable to read a single word.  Students in grade two read on average 5.8 correct words per minute, and 42 percent were unable to read a single word.

From 2013 to 2014, YEGRA expanded to 822 schools in 10 governorates and reached approximately 230,000 students in grades one to three. Initial analysis of assessment results suggest that YEGRA has had extraordinary success.

The National YEGRA Scale-up Workshop followed a series of more than 380 conferences conducted at the central, governorate and district levels to prepare for the national scale-up process for the YEGRA program. Together, these workshops were attended by more than 3,000 participants, including officials from the Ministry of Education, donor agencies, international partners and YEGRA coordinators.

With the upcoming expansion of the program, educators, implementers, officials, and coordinators have many important decisions and issues to discuss.

“This workshop has been organized at just the right time. It’s a cornerstone for the scale-up process,” said Dr. Abdulrazzaq Al-Ashwal, Minister of Education.

Given the program’s great success in raising literacy levels, officials from the Ministry of Education were excited to be part of the program’s growth and optimistic about the program’s positive effects for the nation, beyond literacy skills alone.

“YEGRA is another revolution in Yemen, a revolution that will help create change and aid in the development of this country,” said Dr. Abdullah Salem Lamlas, Deputy Minister for Training.

Thanking USAID, Creative, and other partners, Dr. Abdulla Al-Hamidi, Vice Minister of Education, referred to YEGRA as the best program implemented by the ministry.

At the two-day workshop, participants exchanged information and ideas about the challenges faces early grade reading in Yemen and the future of the YEGRA program.

“It is important to be here today so we can express our concerns and potential challenges we will face in implementing this program,” said Maisa Mahmood Ushaish, Head of Training Directorate in Aden. “I hope we have similar workshops in the future because this makes us more involved with other decision makers at all levels.”

Workshop participants committed to coordinated and unified efforts to facilitate the expansion process by providing technical support to education officials and the local governing councils in planning, implementing and monitoring the YEGRA program.

Key recommendations for USAID from the workshop were: i) to continue providing technical support for national YEGRA scale-up; and ii) ensure that all partners  follow the same implementation procedures, particularly in the professional development and supervisory classroom follow-up post teacher training to ensure the success of the program.

“We, as educators, always plan, but when it comes to implementing activities, there is always a gap in the field, said Dr. Abdul Jabar Al-Waeli, Head of the Education Research and Development Center.  “YEGRA scale-up is a huge process and it will be implemented in every school in the Republic of Yemen, and each one of us has a role to play,”

USAID and Creative, for their part, are committed to fulfilling their role in expanding the successful early grade reading program to even more students around the country.

“YEGRA was only a pilot intervention a year-and-a-half ago. Today, we are talking and deliberating on rolling it out nationwide,” said USAID Yemen Director Smith. “This is a powerful demonstration of our collective efforts and commitment.”

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