Problem the program addresses: Ensuring that children achieve literacy at the right age (by the end of Grade 3) is one of the most significant challenges in basic education in Brazil. While literacy levels vary by region, one area that lags far behind others on education and other social development-related indicators is Brazil’s semi-arid region, where approximately 8 million children (out of a total of 13 million) live in poverty. Literacy, infant mortality, and water coverage rates in this region are well below the national average. In this region in 2009, a quarter of children aged 10 years old who were completing their fifth year of primary school were still unable to read, write, or understand simple text appropriate to their age. This figure was almost double the national average of about 13 percent.
Description of the solution: The program takes a holistic approach to improving reading and writing and assessing learning outcomes and was designed taking into account lessons learned from a prior early child education program experience in a neighboring state. First, the program supports the mobilization of municipalities to perform a diagnosis of literacy levels of children in Grade 2, in order to establish a baseline for monitoring the learning outcomes of children in the state. The program has used data from Provinha Brasil — which is a national assessment of children’s achievement — to set up a baseline against which municipalities’ progress can be measured. The program then measures both reading and writing skills acquired by students at the end of Grade 3, through a locally developed testing process that allows for individual assessment and analysis of each child’s level of literacy through a reading test. Second, the program has focused on providing continuous capacity development to teachers, which includes support for planning classes as well as the distribution of reference materials. Third, the program works to improve overall coordination at the municipal level to render the program more sustainable and tailored to the needs of each municipality. It supports municipal professionals to develop monitoring systems in schools to ensure the adequate number of teaching hours is being met.
The program works closely with Municipal Secretaries for Education to engage with pedagogical coordinators who are responsible for clusters of schools within each municipality. The program has organized periodic training sessions for pedagogical coordinators and has helped the involved municipalities to increase the literacy levels of Grade 3 students from under 50 percent to over 80 percent.
- Community: The program encourages families’ active participation in their children’s education. It seeks to promote activities aimed at educating families about the importance of monitoring their children’s school life. This strategy is developed through five meetings with families throughout the course of the year: 1) mobilization; 2) presentation of the school program by grade/age/class per year; 3) individualized feedback from partial evaluations for each student and their family; d) a day of fun activities with families that takes place around the end of the school calendar.
- Government: At the municipal level, local representatives are involved in all key aspects of program implementation. In Ceará, the Governor’s commitment to the program was critical to giving the initiative prominence and to securing funding. At the municipal level in the State of Piaui, the strong commitment of the then Teresina Head of Education was also important to the early success of the program. Both state governments (and the Teresina municipality in the case of Piauí) have borne a significant part of the costs of implementing and expanding the literacy program. The State of Ceará introduced new taxes specifically to support the initiative, and in 2011 the State of Piauí adopted the program as a public policy, with its own budgetary allocation.
- Schools: Schools are engaged during planning and implementation stages. The program monitors schools to ensure adequate teaching hours, planning of classes, and administration of literacy assessments. Schools play a key role in connecting with the community through collective and individual meetings, and in training and advising parents and caregivers to optimize their children’s participation in school.
- Other: UNICEF supported a dedicated group of teachers and individuals from the municipality who had been working on the program to establish an NGO – Instituto ProBem – which has since assumed responsibility for the process of expansion and consolidation of the program.
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Monitoring & Evaluation
The program conducted a baseline study in 2011, whereby it evaluated the initial literacy levels of students enrolled in the second year of elementary schools in municipal schools.
Since the baseline evaluation, students of the program take school exams on a yearly basis, their responses are collated, and statistical reports are generated. The main purpose of the exams conducted in the early years of elementary school is to measure literacy levels of children on an ongoing basis throughout their learning process at a time when it is still possible to adjust pedagogy and teaching techniques in order to address challenges faced by students.
Seventy percent of children (18,323 students) involved in the program in 2013 reached appropriate reading and text comprehension levels for their age by the end of the year. Pedagogical coordinators credited the program with providing them with techniques for identifying children who are not managing to learn and in showing them how to address the problems that were identified. Assessments results were used to prepare materials, as well as to provide teacher training and monitoring.