Teach a child to read for $1
This year, approximately 400,000 African children will learn to read using Fantastic Phonics, in Liberia, Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, and South Africa.
Another 100,000 children will learn using the program in India, Pakistan and SE Asia, and it has been given to charities around the world. In Australia it is being piloted with The Smith Family, and has been given to 260 indigenous schools in remote and regional locations.
Liberia incorporated the program into its country-wide literacy curriculum in 2010.
So I'd like to describe what we do. Firstly, we are Australian, and the program was developed 15 years ago. It is widely used in Australian schools, and recommended by Macquarie University's MultiLit/Minilit programs which targets children with learning disabilities. It has been provided free to charities since 2005.
In 2008, the American central aid body, USAID, selected the program "Fantastic Phonics" to pilot in a national literacy study in Liberia. This pilot is part of a global literacy project known as EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) which has been developed to improve literacy in developing and impoverished communities. The philosophy is that, by improving literacy, even in dusty tribal villages in Africa, India, Pakistan and Asia, the children would gain reading skills sufficient for further education.
Often, these children have no literacy. Nearly always, there is no technology in the villages.
The results of the pilot were so significant that the program was extended and then became national in Liberia in 2010.
All of this is done, free of charge to these communities.
Is it effective?
The program is effective on multiple levels.
USAID, as part of its 2008 pilot, researched the program across 700 schools. The research by USAID/World Bank showed that children improved their decoding ability (the fundamental skill in reading English) by an average of over 580%, compared to a baseline control group. As a result, the full treatment schools achieved the international benchmark for literacy - to read 45 words a minute.
In their report on the project, the EGRA team wrote: “three years of teaching were achieved in one year ... the full treatment group increased student achievement for every section of the EGRA, often with quite large impacts on student achievement. In fact, the overall EGRA Plus effect ... was enormous in social science.” - page 13.
Also ... “The EGRA Plus program did not simply increase the learning outcomes for children, it dramatically accelerated children’s learning to an extent seldom found in educational or or social science research.” - page 14
Cost to provide
The program is deliberately designed low-cost. Rather than produce and distribute hard copy books, the program is downloaded and self-printed on standard A4 office paper. Experience within these communities shows that a complete set of 60 stories (a 480 page program of gently graded phonics) can be printed and distributed for $1 per student. In communities where technology is available, the program is also available as video, multimedia and Kindle/epub.
Let's start with an unsolicited comment by a NSW teacher - “Using Early Reading with a class of students suffering from Autism and a Moderate to Severe Intellectual Disability. Getting great engagement with 3 students now reading … one student has reached book 15 (Level 1) in only 4 weeks. Amazing to hear ’non-verbal’ (or so I was informed earlier) students read with improving speech and articulation.” (email supplied on request}.
Teachers and parents do not need special training, except a minimum level of English knowledge. The program is designed as a "gently graded", meaning it caters for all skill levels. Referring to the unsolicited comment above, if autistic and brain-injured children can rapidly progress, then every child can. This has been the international experience.
Download these Resources
Visit the USAID/World Bank website (Liberian students are pictured with Fantastic Phonics on the homepage)
There are literacy projects which distribute traditional books to poorer communities, but these are expensive and limited by budget and distribution. Further, new books are required year on year as new students enter school, and damaged or lost books replaced. These projects require significant funding, and are not shown by any research to be effective because of the books don't form a co-ordinated, structured program.
Besides - the demand for literacy in developing countries is bottomless, and no hard-book program could satisfy this need, in terms of distribution, budget, teacher training, and program efficacy.
Fantastic Phonics takes an opposite approach; using the internet for distribution, self-nomination for the resource, and self-print strategies, communities can take control of their literacy. This a fundamental driver of the program's success, in tandem with the widely experienced and reported efficacy of the program.
Generally the 60 story-books are bound into 2 volume of 30 story-books ... a total of 480 pages. There is video, multimedia, and complete teacher lesson guides for each story-book.
"Thank you again for the privilege of using your books for reading literacy in South Africa. It has been exciting to see how the community and churches in Port Elizabeth are coming together to make this a reality. Through the contributions of numerous people, we have been able to print the over 57,000 pages necessary to make these books.
People have come together to help cut, collate, staple, and prepare these books. I did the teacher training this week and the first set of books will be delivered for use on Tuesday. I will be at the school each morning to help facilitate as teachers implement this program. They are excited and so are we. We will try to document the progress of the children. It should be easy because presently very few of the grade 2 and grade 3 children are reading English at all!"
Penny Heasman, Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (email supplied on request)
Fantastic Phonics provides an endless resource, unlimited by budget, unlimited by access, that can be distributed to every student, without central control or funding limitation. New sets can be reprinted for each intake, and damaged books are easily replaced. The structure of the program - two bound volumes - keeps all the books together, in correct sequence. This has been identified as crucial to success.
The program also includes simple processes for detecting which children are falling behind. These include comprehension, spelling, and a bookset which allows each children to "rewrite" the story in their own words, using the images as "memory props". This particularly indicates which children are struggling with their skill level.
The research highlighted several important "unintended consequences", one of which was the effect on the family. Each child takes the volumes home, and the phonics stories are read within the family. The sidestream effect is improved sibling and adult literacy (These communities desperately want to read, to escape their poverty).
Another was the positive effect on maths. Another was gender equality in outcomes. One PARTICULARLY important outcome was the sudden rise in school attendance rates in the full treatment schools, compared to the control schools. This sudden increase was clearly related to the improved performance of children in their education. These are listed in the research.
We are pleased to offer this resource. There are no strings attached, and no costs. There are additional resources available, such as video and multimedia, and research shows these improve initial engagement with the reading process. There are license conditions, but these relate to a) maintaining the integrity of the program b) respecting copyright of the program.
Finally, there is a comprehensive set of Teacher Training and curriculum guides. Ideally, these should be customised to meet the cultural considerations of each community, and we can assist with that.