Over the past few weeks, we've been getting ready for our second round of literacy classes, meeting with parents and soccer coaches and enrolling children who need help learning to read and write. Each child enrolled has been out of school for at least one year and most haven't attended beyond 3rd grade. In some poorer areas where GOALS works, nearly all the adults are themselves very low-literate, so increasing the number of literate children will have a significant long-term impact.
Along with enrolling new students, we've been following up with our previous group of learners the past few weeks, to find out more about the impact of GOALS' literacy program.
The Joseph family, for example, with 7 children, is one of the poorest in the village of Destra, where GOALS has been offering sport, health and education programs since 2010. Elancia Joseph is 10 years old, but small enough to easily pass for 7. She and her sister Jessa, 13, both enrolled in and excelled in GOALS’ literacy program.
Recently, Elancia's father told us he was surprised to see Elancia take some rocks and use them to show her little brothers and sisters how to count on the dirt floor of their home. “I learned that if you can’t count very well, that you can use rocks to help you. Before, I couldn’t count at all,” Elancia said.
Her soccer coach says that there’s been a big change in children such as Elancia. “Before, they were illiterate, but now, they’re teaching the alphabet to other kids and telling them about all the activities and that they should enroll too!”
But perhaps the most unexpected outcome of Elancia’s participation was the shift in her parents’ attitude. After a lifetime of poverty, and having never had the opportunity themselves, some parents, themselves illiterate, don’t believe that their children have the capacity to learn, and therefore don’t want to make the huge sacrifices and investment needed to afford tuition fees and send them to school. However, Francique Joseph, Elancia’s father told GOALS, “When she came back from literacy class, I saw that she could read and was doing her homework, I could see the importance of school.”
We knew that our plan to measure the impact of our literacy classes couldn't capture the entire generational impact it would have: Children born to literate mothers, for example, have higher survival rates, and not surprisingly, literate adults earn more than those who cannot read and write. But the tests we did take showed that students were learning a significant amount - and quickly.
Our students' average test score was 5.4 before class, placing them in the “pre-literate” category, which means that they may be able to recognize and form some letters, or perhaps write their name. For example, several children wrote a string of letters, such as “hlaorhs”, each of which were correctly formed, but together did not form an actual word. In the final test, students scored an average of 16 points, placing them in the semi-literate category as a group, but individually, half of the students scored 20 or above, placing them in the fully literate category.
But we didn't predict the impact GOALS literacy program would have on parents like Francique Joseph. Like Elancia and Jessa's father, many parents began to believe in the capacity of their children to learn after seeing what they were capable of doing. After seeing their children excel in GOALS' class, nearly all of the families enrolled their children, including Jessa and Elancia in school the next year.
It's not easy, and Elancia still misses school some days when the road is muddy and she is stuck in her little village, and she worries that she won't be able to go at all next year.
But for now, Elancia says she is doing "just fine".