Despite Ongoing Education Programs, Illiteracy Still High Among Afghan Recruits

The United States has committed $200 million towards literacy programs for members of the Afghan army. The programs will continue to fund classes sponsored by the US and NATO. Almost 400,000 troops have attended literacy classes, but there are still significant problems facing military and police forces. “Some command officials responsible for the literacy training program roughly estimated that over half of the force”—consisting of about 352,000—“was still illiterate as of February 2013,” said a report issued by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. “According to officials, this low level of literacy is likely to persist through the end of the decade,” continued the report.

Oruj schools

Literacy programs for Afghan security forces began in 2009 to complement the US-led military instruction. Since then, literacy programs have qualified 233,600 students at first-grade level, 98,700 at second-grade level, and 76,800 at third-grade level. “Literate forces are easier to train, more capable and effective, and better able to understand human rights and the rule of law,” the Inspector General’s report added. “Further, literate soldiers and police can account for equipment and weapons by completing paperwork and reading serial numbers.”

The CIA estimates that the literacy rate among Afghan men stands at 43.1 per cent (just 12.6 per cent among women)—low numbers despite recent improvements in school facilities and girls’ education. The US had intended to hand the programs over to Afghans by the end of the year, but the report says that the Afghan government and ministries have been “slow to fulfill their stated commitments.” The International Security Assistance Force says that NATO forces are now keeping tighter controls on funding for the programs, and with improved oversight have saved some $19 million.

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US and Pakistan Announce Pakistan Reading Project

On Feb. 13, the United States and Pakistan announced a new joint venture, the Pakistan Reading Project, a five-year, $160 million plan to improve the reading skills of 3.2 million children throughout the country. The project aims to improve the quality of education in 38,000 Pakistani schools, and the skills of 94,00 teachers. “The launch of the Pakistan Reading Project represents a long term commitment from the IRC and USAID to reach 3.2 million children with improved reading programs and ensure that 2.5 million of them are reading at grade level,” said John Keys, senior vice president of international programs at the IRC.

Girls in playground, Abbottabad, Pakistan, 15 September 2011Pakistan’s literacy rate, standing at 55 per cent, is among the lowest in the world, ranking 113 among 120 nations surveyed by UNESCO. Timo Pakkala, UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan said, “Education is one of the key priority areas of the government of Pakistan.” Pakistani enrollment rates are also among the highest in the world—only 66 per cent of children attend primary school, and 7.2 million children are not enrolled in primary school.

Despite an educational system that has underperformed and is corrupt and in disarray, there have been improvements in increasing the literacy rate especially in rural areas of the country. The Pakistan Literacy Project aims at a holistic approach to literacy gains, targeting schools, universities, and expanding English skills for more than 5,000 low-income students. “We are hopeful that Pakistan Reading Project… will assist our government’s efforts to improve the prevailing situation by reaching out to 4 million primary school children and providing them with the opportunity to enhance their reading skills,” said Minister for State Education, Training and Standards in Higher Education ENG Muhammad Bligh-Ur-Rehman. 

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British Council Lauds Omani Schools for International Education

Earlier this month, seven schools in Oman were recognized by the British Council, an international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations, for participating in the “Connecting Classrooms Project.” Connecting Classrooms is an initiative that offers school partnerships, professional development for teachers, and the British Council International School Award, designed to give a schools international recognition.

South Sudan refugees in Uganda January 2014
“I believe ‘Connecting Classrooms’ has increased the profile of activities already taking place, given them a higher status and encouraged students to become global citizens,” said Zuweina Al-Maamary, the British Council’s Assistant Director for Projects, Oman. Paul Doubleday, Director of the British Council, Oman added, “I am very excited about the relationship that we have built between Oman and the UK through the Connecting Classrooms projects that have been on-going for the last five years in Oman. The rich range of work the schools are doing to support and encourage global citizenship with a greater understanding of the world around them is truly fantastic.” The recognition of Omani schools came only a week before its neighbor, Yemen, signed an agreement with the British Council that will provide for increased training and professional development for Yemeni teachers.

Cooperation between the British Council and countries in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is an encouraging sign. Although countries in the region have invested heavily in education over the last decade, unemployment, especially among the young, is the highest in the world. Better teachers are needed to provide better training for students seeking jobs. International cooperation is one means of providing teachers with the resources they need to pursue those development opportunities.

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UNICEF Report Details Effects of Syrian Civil War on Children

The Syrian Civil War has displaced more than two million refugees, putting an immense burden on the infrastructure—educational and otherwise—of many of its neighbors. A new UNICEF report, issued on 13 December, 2013, describes the impact of the civil war on children as well as education within Syria itself.

UNICEF reports that since 2011 almost three million children from Syria have had to quit school as their families have been displaced or their schools destroyed. There are now nearly twice as many children in Syria aged 5 to 17 years old out of school as there are attending, and the numbers are hardly better for the displaced refugee population. 80 per cent of school-age Syrian children are out of school in Lebanon, 66 per cent in Iraq, 63 per cent in Turkey.

The civil war has destroyed what was a successful public school system in Syria. “Before the crisis began in March 2011, Syria could point to a healthy record in basic education. An estimated 97 per cent of primary-age children were attending school, as were 67 per cent of secondary-age children,” the report said. Syria’s literacy rate also surpassed the regional average and was on a par with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, higher than Egypt’s or Iraq’s.

The report concludes with four key recommendations:

  • Long-term planning for the education of displaced Syrian children, including the “development and implementation of innovative education policies and models that reflect the presence of Syrian children as an enduring reality.”
  • Host countries must be supported and international investment doubled—international appeals for funding have reached only 62 per cent of their goal this year.
  • Scale up success and innovation. Certain programs like transferable certification for Syrian refugees, and volunteer instruction in Arabic have proven effective ways to help displaced students resume their education.
  • End the devastation of Syria’s education infrastructure — “an estimated 4,000 schools have been destroyed, damaged or turned into shelters for displaced people,” says the report.

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Report Reveals Low Literacy in Tanzania’s Schools

Children's Corner at Bunbogo Primary SchoolA new report on the findings of the Uwezo Learning Survey in Tanzania has found that literacy and numeracy in Tanzanian schools are lagging far behind expected levels. Around 85% of third graders in public schools are unable to read Kiswahili and solve grade-appropriate math problems, according to the report.

The Uwezo Learning Assessment is an initiative that aims to evaluate, report on, and make recommendations about learning capabilities among children aged six through 16 in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. According to Uwezo’s founders, the project began after education stakeholders began to suspect that often “schooling is not translating into learning.” With the release of the Uwezo Tanzania 2012 Learning Assessment Report, Uwezo have found that suspicion confirmed.

According to the report, which surveyed over 100,000 Tanzanian children, literacy in Kiswahili and English remains generally low in Tanzania. In addition to the 85% of students in grade three whose literacy was lagging, researchers found that almost a quarter of seventh graders could not read a story written at a second grade reading level.

According to Uwezo Tanzania’s country director, Zaida Mgalla, English skills were also found to be low, with 50% of seventh graders lacking a basic grasp of English.

Surveyors concluded that literacy and numeracy performance varied by students’ location, wealth, and by the type of school they attended. Wealthier students, children in urban areas, and those who attend private schools generally outperformed poorer and rural students, and those attending government-run schools.

As the Uwezo initiative is still in the evaluation stage, the organization has not yet made recommendations on improving the school system.

In the meantime, according to Mgalla, the results are clear: “We are in a society of two classes,” she says. “The privileged with more wealth or in urban areas or who can afford private schooling do much better than most people. When it comes to education, Tanzania is not one nation.”

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DFID Launches Education Program to Reach Marginalized Children in Ghana

Young children in school. GhanaThe Department for International Development (DFID) has partnered with the government of Ghana to offer a new education program to marginalized children. The Complementary Basic Education (CBE) program will target out of school children with the aim of teaching them functional literacy within nine months.

Experts estimate that around 440,000 Ghanaian children currently do not attend school. In rural and poor urban areas of the country, many children are reportedly kept out of school to help their families with manual labor, selling goods at market, and rearing cattle. The CBE program plans to reach 120,000 of these children over the next three years, with the intent of integrating them into formal school at the end of their nine-month session.

The CBE program is being called “groundbreaking” by Ghanaian media, as children will be taught reading, writing, and numeracy in their own dialects. Classes are to be held only in the afternoons, to allow for every child to be able to attend.

In Kintampo South and Pru districts the Ghanaian NGO Mission of Hope Society (MIHOSO) has already begun to implement the program. According to Thomas Benarkuu, MIHOSO’s Program Coordinator, the program has demonstrated strong retention and completion rates. Nine hundred out of school children have already been enrolled, he says, including encouraging numbers of female students.

At a festival to mark the launch of the program in the Brong-Ahafo region, Sally Taylor, Ghana’s DFID Country Director, called the program an “important step towards ensuring that every Ghanaian child gets an opportunity to go to school and become the people they have the potential to be.”

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Literacy for Anywhere

We’ve got a new program in the works! A full, professionally developed, series of leveled readers for primary students that can be downloaded, translated, and printed, for free!

Check out our video above, and donate to, like, and share the campaign!


Pakistan’s Education System Stagnant and Full of Corruption

Schoolkids and a teacher

Despite multiple federal and international grants and programs, 1.97 billion dollars between 1997 and 2012, the literacy rate in Pakistan has only slightly improved in that time. Today, over half of the country’s children aged 5-to-16 lack access to basic education. In 1998, only 42.7 percent of Pakistanis has received an education; over twenty years later the rate has only risen to 46 percent.

Khusro Pervez, Director General of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), a non-profit group that focuses on education, says, “Education has never been a national priority.” Azman Khan and Myra Iqbal from Reuters captures the problem as this: “since independence in 1947, Pakistan has seen seven national education policies, eight five-year-plans and about half a dozen other education schemes. Yet the results are dismal.”

Kaiser Bengali, an education expert from the government after government has abandoned the policies of the previous administration and adopted new and even loftier targets, wreaking havoc on the education system and squandering millions of dollars.”

Additionally, Pakistan’s education system is full of corruption.  In 2011, The Supreme Court heard a case of 66 billion rupees levied in a special education tax between 1985 and 1995 but never used for schools. Additionally, in 2013, Transparency International found that 43 percent of Pakistanis surveyed viewed the education system as corrupt or highly corrupt. While the progress in Pakistan seems slow and dismal, Pakistan’s federal education budget for 2013 is 17 percent higher than last year and the government has honored “its pledge to double the education budget and keep its eyes glued on the target.”

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Pakistan Observes International Literacy Day

DIL - 2012 Education Award Recipient: Asia - PacificThis year, Pakistan observed International Literacy Day on Sunday, September 8th, with vows to increase government spending on education, ramp up efforts to enroll the country’s 25 million out-of-school children, and increase its literacy rate. The United States has also contributed to the celebrations with the announce of its new Pakistan Reading Project.

With an adult literacy rate of 62.8% and the world’s second highest number of children out of school, Pakistan is currently facing a severe educational crisis. Around half of all enrolled children drop out before completing primary schoo;. Additionally, based on current numbers, Pakistan will not be able to reach the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goal for Education, which strives to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

At an assembly to mark International Literacy Day, Baligh ur Rehman, Pakistan’s Education Minister, announced new government education reforms aimed at enhancing the quality of education, increasing enrollments, and lowering the school dropout rate. The government will also supplement the reforms with a special three-day nationwide campaign to enroll half a million children in school.

The Pakistan Reading Project, the United States’ contribution to the International Literacy Day celebrations, will focus on boosting the reading skills of 3.2 million primary school children. The project will fund reading instruction and reading assessment in 38,000 public schools over the next five years.

International Literacy Day, established by UNESCO in 1966, is celebrated each year on September 8th.

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Great Tips for Teaching Writing To Language Learners

Teaching Literacy as a whole? Check out our literacy resource page with articles, links, and more to get you started!

A boy with a physical disability is writing. Cambodia

It’s amazing how often speaking ability doesn’t translate to writing ability with foreign language learners. In fact, they use different parts of the brain so it’s not uncommon to meet dazzling conversationalists who can barely compose an intelligible email. If you’re a teacher of language, it’s your job to bridge this gap, not only helping your students to write great sentences, but also organizing their thoughts into complete letters, essays, papers, or even books.

Never fear, because Open Equal Free’s Literacy Resources and Ed Tips are here to help! In this article, we’ll give you a bird’s eye view of teaching writing: how to help your students get past their fears, organize their ideas, and communicate effectively.

Don’t Lose Focus, Write for a Reason!

Why do we write? To communicate ideas, of course! This is perhaps one of the most important rules for teaching writing. The more you have your students write to communicate an idea effectively to another person, the better. Sure, that person can be you, but why not to another student, or better yet, a whole group of them?

Instead of having a student write a biography she quietly turns in, why not have her write a biography of a famous person without stating the name? Then, have her read the biography out loud to the class. If the class can guess who the bio is about, the student did a good job. If the class can’t guess who they’ve written about, she needs to get back to work!

This can work with almost any writing assignment. Instead of making the goal to “get an A,” the goal becomes to “use your writing to communicate an idea effectively.” Not only do students immediately know whether they’ve succeeded or not, but they also understand why they’ve failed, and the reason they’ve failed goes straight to the heart of writing: They didn’t get their ideas across to their readers.

Build Strong Writers, Don’t Expect To Birth Them

It’s one of the oldest plays in the teacher book: Scaffolding. Most teachers know that you can’t take your students from zero to sixty without some steps in between. What many teachers are unable to accept is that sometimes you can’t take your students from zero to two without that crucial step in the middle.

The write thing Project 365(2) Day 12Whenever your students are having difficulty with anything, the best thing you can do is stop, rewind, and break the lesson into smaller pieces. We have a whole article on scaffolding coming down the pipeline, but until then, here’s how to break writing down into manageable bites.

First of all, think long and hard about what you’re teaching. Are you teaching writing? Writing and vocab? Writing, vocab, and grammar? Even if you are teaching multiple things, or expect your students to negotiate multiple new language concepts, the trick is to walk them through them so that they’re only tackling one at a time.

For example, let’s say you want them to write a restaurant review. If you try to get a bunch of beginning language learners to not only organize their thoughts, but also generate vocabulary and decide what tenses and phrasing are appropriate for a review article all at once, you’re likely setting them up for failure. Break it down!

Like all scaffolding, how many of these steps you’ll have to do depends on the level of your students and what your objectives for the lesson are, but, here are some bites you can help them take during your lesson:

Set the Context

In the beginning of the lesson you would set the context and elicit enough vocabulary words and related language for them to use in their writing. Even if they have a pretty solid vocabulary  it just adds another burden for them to carry while they try to learn to write. Why not teach the vocab and phrasing they’ll need separately so that they can focus on organizing their ideas and communicating effectively?

Nancy writing awayShow An Example

This step can get dicey quickly, especially in contexts where students are used to simply copying from a teacher on the board. The best way to avoid this is by providing the example early on, and then removing it before moving on to any other steps. This could happen after you’ve generated vocabulary and structure, or, depending on your students (maybe they have a lot of vocabulary but not much confidence writing, or maybe they’ve been writing for a while but don’t have much vocabulary around this specific subject).

Generate Some Structures

Another great pre-writing activity is to generate actual grammatical structures students might use. For restaurant reviews, this could be as easy as reviewing simple past tense. For other assignments you may want to generate some language that might be difficult for them. The key, of course, is to modulate how much you give them, and how directly applicable it is to the level of your students.

For early beginners, you may be using elicitation to generate almost every sentence as a class, leaving students to simply arrange the ideas in the appropriate order. For more advanced classes, you may generate a couple of examples that they are expected to rewrite and expand entirely on their own.

Use Graphic Organizers

Generating and organizing ideas and constructing the language to share them are two different tasks. If you ask students to do all of that at once and they face difficulties, a graphic organizer step will help you pull the process apart and give your students the tools they need to build to the point where they can do these steps at once, independently. You can find links to graphic organizers on our literacy page.


Editing & Rewriting

Constructive criticism is great, and providing it is certainly a large part of your job as a teacher, but it is possible to criticize too much. How many new ideas would you expect your students to absorb in a single class? Three? Four? Maybe five? You certainly wouldn’t introduce all of the tenses in first and third person in a single beginner class, it would be too much.

Likewise, if students have made a dozen mistakes in their papers, do you think they can internalize and learn from all of them in one go?

Probably not.

Instead, tell your students that, for each paper, you’ll pick about three to five of the most important conventions errors and focus on those. Remember to emphasize that the focus goes both ways. You’ll be focusing on a few of their mistakes, and you expect them to focus on improving those for the next paper.


Have a grading rubric. Share it with your students. I’ve never been a fan of percentile grades for writing. How some teachers differentiate between an essay scored at 97% and one scored at 98% without being arbitrary, or over-focusing on conventions, is beyond me. A common answer is to choose a scale, usually from one through five or six. That’s more useful when talking about writing. Then translate the score into whatever grading system your school uses. Need a place to start? Check out this example from Florida.

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