By: Kirsty Newman, PhD, Vice President of Programs
Luminos is thrilled to welcome Kirsty Newman, PhD, joining the team as Vice President of Programs. In this new role, Kirsty oversees the global programs team to support joyful, foundational learning for children at the margins. Before joining Luminos, Kirsty held senior leadership roles in various bilateral, multi-lateral, and non-governmental development organizations, focusing on education and evidence-informed policy making.
In a new podcast series from American Public Media Reports, Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, journalist Emily Hanford highlights one of the longest-running education debates in the U.S. – how do we teach children how to read?
While this might seem relevant only to education experts in the U.S., there are similarly fierce battles in the global education space, and we can all draw important lessons for education policies and practices.
Worldwide, most children are not learning to read by age ten. In low-income countries, the proportion of kids who can’t read by the time they are 10 reaches 90%, and most children who cannot read by age ten never become fully literate.
It is hard to overstate the impact of this learning crisis; every one of the Sustainable Development Goals will be challenging, if not impossible, to achieve if most young people are not even learning to read.
The learning crisis has resulted from a long track record of underinvestment in education systems along with a tendency to focus more on school attendance than actual learning outcomes. As a result, poor-quality education has become self-perpetuating, with poorly-educated and often untrained teachers unable to provide high-quality teaching to their students.
The podcast describes how many U.S. education experts position themselves in one of two opposing camps: those who believe in the “science of reading” and those who support “balanced literacy.” The first emphasizes the importance of teaching literacy through a gradual approach starting with letter recognition and then building up to the ability to read whole words and sentences. The other approach relies more on a child’s experience and context to understand texts.
As set out in the podcast, there is clear evidence that phonics-based approaches are superior in enabling children to become fluent readers. It is necessary that the skills in decoding words become automatic so that cognitive capacity can be used for higher-order skills such as understanding, analyzing, and inferring. However, what shines through in the podcast is that people on both sides of the so-called reading wars have remarkably similar end goals.
At Luminos, we have found that in education policy debates, it can be incredibly helpful to acknowledge this shared intent. Most people who work in this sector are passionate advocates for children. They want them to be safe from harm, to have the opportunity to experience the joy of learning, and to develop the skills they need to thrive.
The great news is that Luminos has a track record demonstrating that it is possible to deliver all these things, even in low-resource settings. Our programs:
- Prioritize the safety and well-being of children,
- Draw on the science of teaching and iterate continually to achieve tangible impacts on foundational learning (particularly literacy and numeracy), and,
- Incorporate teaching approaches that are engaging and joyful.
A Luminos student in Ethiopia completes a writing assignment. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Our experience at Luminos proves that it is possible to focus on building foundational skills (particularly literacy and numeracy) in a way that also builds the foundations for broader skills, such as critical thinking and socio-emotional learning.
We have an intensive, child-centered approach that has reached more than 172,957 children in Ethiopia, Ghana, Lebanon, Liberia, and The Gambia. Research shows Luminos students go on to complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers, consistently outperform peers by an average of 10% in English and Math, are happier and more confident, and have higher aspirations for their future. Children are achieving remarkable progress in learning to read, write, and do math during our one-year program.
Debate and discussion are crucial, but the more we can work together to advance proven strategies for teaching reading skills, the more likely we are to overcome the learning crisis.