USAID: Improving reading skills of Dominican children

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Child reads and focuses on USAID READ Project's book.
USAID’s Read program has improved the reading skills of 200,000 students in more than 370 schools in targeted communities. | El proyecto USAID Leer ha mejorado las habilidades de lectura de 200.000 estudiantes en más de 370 escuelas en comunidades seleccionadas.

By David Maher

World Book Day is Thursday, April 23, 2020!  We are excited to promote and support reading in the Dominican Republic.  World Book Day is a celebration encouraging everyone to gain a renewed respect for literature and the contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.  But most importantly it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

USAID’s Read Program is a $19.9 million project running from June 2015 through June 2020 in collaboration with Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) in the Dominican Republic. The objective of the program is to improve students’ reading skills and strengthen instruction through an enhanced curriculum and innovative approaches to education, while ensuring schools are safe and inclusive for all students. With this project, USAID is promoting U.S. values of universal education and helping reduce the cycle of crime and violence within communities, and accelerating economic growth in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has been working to improve education during the past decade, but room for improvement remains.  Since 2013, four percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is designated for primary and secondary education. The Dominican government is focused on increasing access to education and improving its quality through a number of reforms. One such reform is the extended school day policy, which doubles instruction from the previous 4 hours to 8 hours per day. Despite these institutional and policy reforms, a 2016 study conducted by USAID's Read Program revealed that Dominican second graders have difficulties with very basic literacy skills such as letter knowledge, phonological awareness, word recognition, reading fluency, oral comprehension, and consequently reading comprehension. One possible cause of low reading comprehension rates in later grades is the failure to secure early reading skills during the first three years of primary school.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the Dominican Republic 123 out of 138 countries for quality primary education. The country also scored below the regional average among 15 Latin American countries surveyed by UNESCO’s Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE), receiving the lowest in six of seven tests administered to students in third and sixth grade of primary education reading, writing, math, and science. A lack of resources in education also negatively affects school safety and inclusion for children with disabilities. Insufficient supervision and tolerance of poor behavior leads to an opportunity for violence among students in schools, which creates a difficult learning environment.

USAID collaborates with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to correct the discrepancy between educational outcomes in the Dominican Republic compared to the region at large. USAID’s efforts have focused on improving basic education in reading, teacher training, strengthening school governance, increasing the private sector investment in education, and increased learning opportunities for vulnerable children.

The USAID's Read Program is achieving ambitious goals. The program has  improved the reading skills of 200,000 students in more than 370 schools in targeted communities. To achieve this, reading materials have been designed to target literacy skills lacking in Dominican schools. More importantly, it's improving the training of 3,000  teachers, those responsible for the education of primary school children, in the use of best practices for effective reading instruction. Finally, as the USAID's program recognizes and emphasizes the important role that parents play in their child’s education, it continues to engage 200 Parent Teacher Associations in their children’s education.