Unpacking the Reading Wars and Advocating for Phonics

Unpacking the Reading Wars and Advocating for Phonics

On May 23, the Luminos Fund convened leading education experts to discuss the U.S. reading wars and refocus attention on the crucial task of teaching children how to read. This was the second webinar in the Luminos Method series, which also marked the launch of our latest Luminos Method element: Phonics for First-Generation Readers. This Method element is a user-friendly resource designed for governments and education organizations, combining the latest research on effective phonics instruction with our best practices developed through years of experience in some of the world’s most challenging contexts.

Speakers:

Emily Hanford, Senior Producer and Correspondent, American Public Media

Dr. Benjamin Piper, Director, Global Education Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

Watch the webinar below:

Journalist Emily Hanford, celebrated for her in-depth, investigative podcast, Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, set the scene by providing an overview of the current state of reading instruction in American schools. Dr. Benjamin Piper of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation drew on his extensive experience working in low-income countries, and shed light on the journey of learning to read in such contexts. Of the many valuable lessons they shared, here are five that stood out:

1) We are facing a global learning crisis.

The global learning crisis transcends national boundaries, and the consequences of this crisis are far-reaching, hindering social and economic progress and perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. In the U.S. and around the world, far too many children are not learning to read.

“7 in 10 kids worldwide can’t read at the age of grade three, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, that’s 9 in 10 children. 90% of kids can’t read by the end of their third-grade year, age 10… Learning levels in these foundational years have lasting impacts on children’s low learning trajectories and future life prospects overall.”

Dr. Benjamin Piper

2) All children can benefit from a phonics-based approach to reading instruction, especially those in low-income countries.

Research consistently shows that explicit and systematic phonics instruction is an essential part of a comprehensive approach to foundational literacy. This approach promotes inclusivity and equips children with the tools they need to become successful readers. This is especially important for first-generation readers who are growing up in homes without books or parents who can read to them — phonics-based instruction equips them with the tools they need to become independent, confident readers.

“We work with students who are often the first in their family to learn to read, coming from homes that may not have a single book and coming from environments where the printed word is not a familiar thing. Most importantly, many of the students we teach are actually learning to read in the language they don’t speak at home. When you think through all of these extraordinary barriers to learning to read, it starts to become clear why a systematic step-by-step approach to teaching kids to learn to read is all the more essential.”

Caitlin Baron

A Luminos student in Ethiopia practices reading during class.

Luminos students in Ethiopia practice their reading skills using readers with local stories and illustrations. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

3) Partisan political and ideological concerns have highjacked the debate on reading instruction.

The U.S. debate surrounding reading instruction has unfortunately become mired in partisan political and ideological concerns, diverting attention from evidence-based practices. It is crucial to refocus the conversation on research and best practices, ensuring that decisions about reading instruction prioritize the needs of children above all else.

“If you’re a mom of a kid who’s struggling to read, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, or a Democrat or Republican, you still care about this issue… And I’m hoping that means we will start to get the politics out and just do what we know is best from a lot of scientific research about how to teach kids to read.”

Emily Hanford

4) The key to academic success and social-emotional well-being is grounded in foundational literacy skills.

Foundational literacy skills serve as the cornerstone of academic success and social-emotional well-being for children. These skills not only establish one’s reading abilities but also contribute to broader cognitive development, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Moreover, mastering foundational literacy skills empowers children, instilling confidence and a sense of accomplishment which positively impacts their overall well-being and engagement in the classroom. By prioritizing and strengthening foundational literacy skills, educators can set children on a path toward lifelong learning.

“If we put a bright light on the foundational skills and really make sure that kids are mastering those, that allows them to experience success in school.”

Emily Hanford

Learn more about how we grow our student’s sense of self-belief and ensure they are able to experience success in the Identity & Self Belief element of the Luminos Method!

Luminos students in The Gambia use their student workbooks during a literacy lesson.

Luminos students in The Gambia during a literacy lesson. (Photo: Lena Nian for the Luminos Fund)

5) Teaching children how to read is not easy, and teachers need support.

Teaching children how to read is undoubtedly challenging, and explicit phonics instruction can often be new to teachers. They need ongoing coaching and support to help children become successful readers. It involves adapting teaching strategies, providing individualized support, and fostering a joyful classroom environment.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms in Sub-Saharan Africa and India in the last 16 years having lived here. [In] well-designed programs where teachers are trained and supported to teach these programs that are not only phonics but include phonics, you see the magic of having these kids track with their fingers as their teacher is reading the word, and actually seeing the relationship themselves between the letter sounds and the words.”

Dr. Benjamin Piper

Equitable and Effective Reading Instruction for All 

The webinar served as a platform for educators, policymakers, and advocates to contribute to the global conversation on one of the most critical issues facing education today: how to teach children to read.

The insights shared by our speakers reinforce the urgency of prioritizing evidence-based reading instruction for all children. With continued efforts and collaboration, the global community can strive towards equitable and effective reading instruction for future generations.

To learn more about the Luminos Method, including Phonics for First-Generation Readers, click here.

To view the webinar on LinkedIn and read the commentary from event participants, click here.

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Webinar: Getting Ghana Back to School

Webinar: Getting Ghana Back to School

Thursday, September 23, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. New York | 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Accra | Zoom Webinar

Ghana, a leader in education access on the continent, now struggles with the same challenges as other countries. According to new CGD-IEPA research, over 85% of parents say their children have lost learning during COVID-19 school closures, and grade repetition has tripled. On September 23, please join Ghanaian luminaries, education leaders, and the Luminos Fund to discuss how to unlock Ghana’s full educational potential once again. 

Featuring: 

  • Dr. Might Kojo Abreh, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development; Senior Research Fellow and Head of Grants and Consultancy, Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA) 
  • Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education & Development and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development, The Open University; Member, Luminos Fund Advisory Board 
  • Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder & President, Ashesi University 
  • Corina Gardner, Executive Director, IDP Foundation 
  • Yawa Hansen-Quao, Executive Director, Emerging Public Leaders 

Moderated by: 

  • Caitlin Baron, Chief Executive Officer, Luminos Fund 


Now in its fifth year, the Luminos Fund’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, implementers, and allies around the subjects of education and international development. 

Webinar: What the Return to School after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola Epidemic Can Teach Us in the Current Moment

Webinar: What the Return to School after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola Epidemic Can Teach Us in the Current Moment

Thursday, September 24, 2020, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EDT
Zoom Webinar – Register here

With over one billion children out of school, education leaders today are experiencing the challenge of a generation. How can historically slow-moving education systems turn on a dime? What can leaders across the public and private sector do to help children recover from COVID-19 learning loss—and lift children out of learning poverty?

The Coronavirus pandemic is not the first calamity to put learning at risk. Powerful lessons can be drawn from recent history—such as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or Liberia after Ebola—to inform today’s pathways to relief, recovery, reform, and resilience in education delivery. 

On September 24 at 11 a.m. EDT, please join the Luminos Fund for the launch event of “Education Leadership through Crisis,” a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons learned on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right. We are honored to launch with this webinar featuring three unique education leaders.

Guest Speakers

  • Neerav Kingsland, Managing Partner, The City Fund
  • George Werner, Former Minister of Education, Liberia
  • Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution

Moderated by

  • Mubuso Zamchiya, Managing Director, The Luminos Fund

Please join us. Register online at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_olxlTCCAThKAefhJviG9Wg.

Now in its fourth year, the Luminos Fund’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, implementers, and allies around the subjects of education and international development.

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