AKU study assesses early literacy development at home and school

KARACHI: Interventions to remedy early literacy difficulties that can have an impact on a child’s successful learning at school and later in life, will need to involve parents as well as teachers stressed researchers of a three-year project on early literacy interventions at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development.

“In Pakistan, many young children have inadequate early literacy skills – the ability to read and write,” said Dr Almina Pardhan, Assistant Professor, AKU IED and principal investigator of the Early Literacy Research Intervention Project. “We wanted to understand, assess and support early literacy development within the home and school environments.”

The study involved children from government, not-for-profit and private schools in the rural and urban areas of Karachi and Gilgit: 200 children, between four to five years of age, 30 families and a number of teachers.

Family members were coached on ways to develop literacy skills, on how to help their child improve their vocabulary and listening skills, and basic reading and writing based on the Family Literacy in Action guide developed at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The guide was made more relevant to local needs by including Urdu songs, stories and reading handouts that would appeal to young children.

“My daughter and I participated in the Family Literacy workshop. When we borrowed storybooks from the workshop and took them home to read, my other three children also got interested in reading. Before this workshop, we were just telling them stories orally. But after this workshop, we learnt how to read to them from the storybooks at home, to ask them questions and talk about the pictures. I can feel a growing interest and curiosity among my children to read,” said a mother whilst sharing her experiences.

Eleven teachers underwent an intensive early childhood education teacher-training programme and, in turn, trained 150 more teachers. Strategies and instructional material used in the teacher training complemented those in the family literacy programme and were offered through blended learning – face-to-face instruction as well as a web-based online learning.

“The project’s initial findings suggest that combining home and school literacy interventions is helpful and crucial in bridging the gap between children’s home and school-based reading and writing literacy practices. We found that training families and teachers had a substantial impact on developing the reading and writing skills of children,” added Dr Pardhan.

The research team has recommended a number of interventions to develop these essential early literacy skills in young children. Parents need to be involved as active partners and their own development supported through structured training programmes. Pre-primary classes, with dedicated learning spaces, need to become an integral part of the formal government school system. The government needs to commit resources to support capacity and programme development for children, teachers and parents.

Dr Mir Afzal Tajik, Director, AKU IED; Dr Mohammad Memon, Chairman, Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Hyderabad; Alam Thaheem, Director, Non-Formal and Literacy Education Department, Government of Sindh; and Bilqees Baig, Director Education Female, Government of Gilgit-Baltistan also spoke on the occasion.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Canada funded this collaborative project between AKU IED and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.



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