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Supporting Adult Literacy: Adding Value Where We Least Expect

Annette Quinn, Head of Operations & Impact
In a world increasingly dependent on digital information, adults with low literacy skills are far more likely to live in poverty, face healthproblems and become isolated from their communities. While closing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children is our main focus, our work at the Breteau Foundation can have additional impacts too.  This ‘Stories from the Classroom’ piece from one of our partner schools in the Dominican Republic is about that unexpected, yet positive impact.  

The International Literacy Foundation estimates that a person is between two and four times more likely to be unemployed if they are illiterate. According to UNESCO, parents who are illiterate will naturally avoid activities involving reading and writing in their day-to-day behaviour and are more likely to communicate (verbally and non-verbally) their negative feelings towards reading and writing to their children, which can then perpetuate the cycle of illiteracy.

Literacy in the Dominican Republic

According to the World Bank, the adult literacy rate in the Dominican Republic has increased from approximately 73% in 1981, to 88% in 2007 and 92% in 2015; a significant increase over nearly four decades. The Dominican Republic ranks 61st in the world for people over 15 years of age being able to read and write a short and simple statement about their everyday life. This is above their regional neighbour Jamaica, but below Colombia and Cuba respectively.

We help maintain and increase this important statistic by supporting the early introduction of literacy via EdTech to children in daycare centres. Studies have shown that when children learn to read at an early age, they:
  • have greater general knowledge
  • strong oral skills and
  • more developed vocabulary
  • become more fluent readers and
  • have higher attention and concentration spans than children who learn to read when they are older.
According to the Literacy Trust, digital technology can play a role in supporting communication, language and literacy through interactive and intuitive story telling eBooks and apps. Their research shows that when technology is used appropriately, it can be an important route into reading for certain groups of children, particularly boys and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Accidental Adult Education

Since 2017, the Breteau Foundation and our funding partner VF Corporation have been working in schools in the Dominican Republic to enhance teaching and learning.  Using the Breteau Foundation’s theory of change model, within daycare centres, the foundation has provided:
  • tablet technology and digital applications
  • strategic support to senior leaders
  • teacher training
  • in-class support to teachers and learners.
In 2018, while working with one of our school project partners located in a rural province of Santiago de los Caballeros, Farah Khoury, our Country Manager, noted that some of the teachers were making basic errors in their writing. While all of the teachers in the nursery school are qualified, some may have been raised with poor literacy and/or had poor literacy teaching within their own education.  This is more likely, given the rural and poor context where the school is based and where illiteracy is more prevalent.

In order to increase the success of our programme, we knew we needed to  provide additional support to teachers. Farah explains “The teachers and I talked about their own areas of need, and from there we decided to create after school training sessions.  We invited teachers from the other daycare centres in the Breteau Foundation programme who also required this support. We started with a dictation test to identify development areas and it progressed and developed from there.”

The programme continues to help the teachers both personally and professionally, which in turn benefits the children in our programmes.

Doing whatever it takes…

As an external organisation working in partnership with schools, our work is only ever successful because of the individuals that take part in  our training and support. We have to be flexible in our approach, to make our programme work for the individual schools and work closely to engage with the teachers and gain their trust, to build their skills and to expand their knowledge of digital tools and pedagogy to support the children’s education.

When reflecting upon the experience, Farah said, “I learned about the disparate levels of literacy amongst the teachers I work with across our programmes, which has helped me cultivate greater patience in my own training. I have created new teaching techniques for both the after school support classes but also for our digital training workshops.”

Children the world over are owning more technology and schools are increasing the integration of technology within the classroom.

In the UK, the National Literacy Trust undertook a 14-week study using eBooks and found that reading levels, attitudes and confidence of young participants was greatly improved, with twice as many boys who thought that reading was ‘cool’. The Literacy Trust believe that digital can open a door to reading for some children, especially those who have had low exposure to books and reading from an early age.  They don’t suggest digital literacy is the only solution but a new and powerful tool to help all kids develop a love of reading.

The Literacy Trust is a UK national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels.  In the UK, one person in six lives with poor literacy and this holds them back at every stage of their life.
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