Today’s celebration of International Literacy Day 2013 is an opportunity for the international development community to reflect upon and reinvigorate its approach to ensuring that all children are able to read and write. In recent years, a shift from focusing primarily on access to an increased focus on learning, particularly foundation skills such as reading and writing, has been an important step for children worldwide. At the same time, the desire for quick fixes to reduce childhood illiteracy may be contributing to the development of approaches that are too narrowly focused and do not consider all of the factors that shape a child’s ability to learn to read and write.
Currently, the global education team at FHI 360 is implementing seven educational projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or Hess Corporation that focus on improving reading for children in early grades, in countries as diverse as Kosovo, Ethiopia and Peru. Although these projects differ according to their contexts, they are all rooted in the understanding that systems, schools, environmental and individual factors all play a role in creating a reader. This understanding is reflected in FHI 360’s approach to literacy improvement in primary schools: Literacy 360°. (See figure.)
Literacy 360° is a child-centered approach to improving reading. The process involves analyzing the factors that help or hinder a child’s ability to read and deploying targeted, cost-effective interventions and resources to support enabling practices and mitigate disabling ones. Those elements closest to the child – teachers, instruction, materials, school leadership and family – are given the greatest emphasis. (See inner circle of figure.)
Literacy 360° also focuses on factors outside of the school (see middle circle) that affect what happens in classrooms. Integrated throughout the Literacy 360° approach (see outer circle) are mechanisms to identify and encourage practices of inclusive education, equality across gender, socioeconomic status, and language and cultural groups. Technology and innovation are used as tools to extend learning to more children.
The 2013 theme for International Literacy Day, ‘Literacies for the 21st Century,’ reminds us that the quest to ensure that all children learn to read and write is not an individual one. Whether and how children communicate (the fundamental purpose of literacy) will shape the trajectory of their local communities and the world in the years to come. With its holistic Literacy 360° approach, FHI 360 hopes to generate new thinking among the international development community on the most powerful approaches to guarantee literacy for all.