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Penny Mordaunt visits Ilm Ideas 2

Posted on 07 March 2019

The Secretary of State was introduced to some of the grantees and incubatees who have benefited from the Ilm Ideas 2 programme which Cambridge Education manages on behalf of DFID. Overall, the programme has benefitted more than 300,000 children, built capacity in local businesses and created lasting partnerships.

Wondertree, a startup, really caught the SoS’s imagination. They use augmented reality to develop interactive games to enhance motor, cognitive and functional skills, for children with special needs and learning disabilities. Disability and inclusion have been flagship themes of the SoS’s time in office.

She also met with Imran Azhar, the dynamic founder of AzCorp Entertainment. AzCorp Entertainment received a grant from Ilm Ideas 2 to develop the “Sheeba and the Private Detectives” comic books. In the series, the heroine Sheeba, her three friends and their two scruffy pets, travel around Pakistan solving mysteries using maths and science

As well as being educational, the comic books tackle gender stereotypes and issues around social justice, diversity and tolerance, in a fun and engaging way. They have already reached more than 35,000 children across Pakistan and Imran Azhar has big plans for expansion.

After meeting with the grantees and incubators, the Secretary of State made an impassioned speech about Global Goal 4 – and how far off track it was – and about the “billions to trillions” agenda which focuses on leveraging private sector funds into development. She was very happy to see how this was being translated into practice in the education sector in Pakistan with UK aid support.

For Cambridge Education this has been a groundbreaking project which has taken work we have done in education innovation in Rwanda and Nigeria and pushed even further into new areas and new services.

Through our support we have helped introduce robust analysis of the educational value of grantee ideas, supported businesses to plan in scale from the very beginning and to facilitated their readiness for investment by the private sector, or government. And through the establishment of an education innovation “trade body” - the Ilm Association - we have also helped create partnerships and support to sustain the gain of Ilm Ideas 2.

Cracking the reading code with their mother tongue

Posted on 28 February 2019

Challenge

In the Maputo province of Mozambique, rural children often encounter Portuguese for the first time on their first day at school. They may be good talkers in their mother tongue, such as the Xichangana and Xirhonga languages. They may be bright enough to learn the building blocks of reading, just like any other child across the world. They may even chant the sounds and letters back to the teacher in class. But so much is missed in building the basics, to the extent that even many second grade students are unable to read any words at all.

Approach

Cambridge Education is technical advisor for an initiative that intervenes at this critical moment by co-producing materials and a curriculum in children’s mother tongue. Students can later use these skills to learn to read in Portuguese, which will serve as the language of instruction for the rest of their school years.

This early stage of learning to read is known as decoding. Effectively, students learn the building blocks of words, such as the sounds produced in a language, and the letters and syllables used to represent those sounds.

For example, teachers introduce letters sequentially, starting with the most common ones. If they began with ABC, it might take too long for students to access letters that actually combine to create meaningful words in their language. So, the first letters they teach are N, A, and K. Children gain rudimentary phonemic awareness and phonics abilities, as well as the concepts of print – i.e. that you read from the top of the page, and from left to right.

Our literacy element is part of a wider education programme run by implementing partner ADPP. This local NGO is the implementation lead for the prime contractor Planet Aid, which is operating within the Food for Knowledge Project (FFK). The programme is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.

Progress

So far, nearly 10,000 children have benefited from the development, production, and distribution of these bilingual learning materials. The project has also trained approximately 300 teachers in the use of the bilingual methods and materials. The results are extremely encouraging. From a baseline of zero, most children can now read letters, syllables and small words and phrases.

The project has a strong sustainability core, as the work is carried out by the Mozambican NGO ADPP. Some 27 reading-coaches live and work in the field, providing constant pedagogical support to schools and teachers. Since our program incorporates new literacy approaches, student-centred strategies, and brand new materials, the role coaches plan in the broader process is remarkably important. A few in-service training days alone would never prove effective in bringing this ‘revolution’ in education the way the persistent, school-based coaching does.

By building school gardens to tackle malnutrition, providing school feeding, and improving sanitation and hygiene through small infrastructure projects, FFK brings a cross-sectoral approach to tackling the obstacles faced by primary children at this critical stage.

Mother tongue literacy? Sounds familiar...

Posted on 28 February 2019

A very large proportion of sub-Saharan African children must learn to read in a language that they don't fully understand. I’ve been working in the Maputo province of Mozambique, where rural children often encounter Portuguese for the first time on their first day at school. It’s no surprise that they struggle – and often fail – to learn the basic skills for reading, which is the foundation for a successful education.

Our initiative aims to intervene at this critical moment in children’s lives. By producing materials and a curriculum in their mother tongue, such as the Xichangana and Xirhonga languages, students can develop the mechanical skills of reading more easily, and build automatic word recognition more quickly. They can later use these skills to learn to read in Portuguese, which will serve as the language of instruction for the rest of their school years.

This early stage of literacy instruction is known as decoding. Effectively, we are teaching the building blocks of words, such as the sounds produced in a language, and the letters and syllables used to represent those sounds, so children gain rudimentary phonemic awareness and phonics abilities. Children are faced with so many challenges, so it’s important to support the process of cracking the code as quickly as possible.

Finding the key to the lock

We therefore introduce letters sequentially, starting with the most common ones. If we began with ABC, it might take too long for students to access letters that actually combine to create meaningful words in their language. So, the first letters they learn are N, A, and K. Also, we teach them in their own language all the concepts of print – i.e. that you read from the top of the page, and from left to right. The results are really encouraging. From a baseline of zero in many cases, even among second grade students, most can now read letters, syllables and small words and phrases.

My own background is in special and inclusive education, and I feel that the principles of equity and universal design are very relevant to how we approach this project. To my mind, effective inclusive education will make considerations for children who are coming to school with varied types of marginalisation, whether that’s a specific learning disability, a minoritised language, or even malnutrition.

It’s therefore very exciting that our project is just a small cog within a much bigger machine that’s looking to address the challenges faced by children and families in this part of Mozambique. The literacy element is part of a wider education programme run by implementing partner ADPP, who is the implementation lead for the prime contractor Planet Aid. And we’re all under the umbrella of the Food for Knowledge Project (FFK), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.

For example, our FFK programme is building school gardens to tackle malnutrition, providing school feeding, and improving sanitation and hygiene through small infrastructure projects. This sort of cross-sectoral project is a beacon for the way that international development is heading. It aligns well with the United States Government’s new education strategy, which emphasises the need for cross-agency collaboration and innovative programming.

The new education strategy also emphasises the “journey to self-reliance”: helping countries to build more self-efficacy in delivering services to their citizens. Our own work is led by a Mozambican non-governmental organisation (ADPP), so we are building the capacity of local leaders, rather than bringing in expertise and then leaving no institutional memory. The programme also relies heavily on 27 local literacy coaches who work and live in the field, providing constant pedagogical support to schools and teachers. Since our programme incorporates new literacy approaches, student-centred strategies, and brand new materials, the role coaches play in the broader process is remarkably important. A few in-service training days alone would never prove effective in bringing this ‘revolution’ in education the way persistent, school-based coaching does.

The children’s first languages – such as Xichangana and Xirhonga –tend to be oral traditions with very few written materials, so these new books have become a huge source of pride for local communities. Knowing the environment in which these schools are located puts the progress into perspective. Many schools have no electricity. Children sit on the floor in many classrooms, some of which are equipped with little beyond a chalkboard and four walls. They have very limited resources, such as books, at home. The fact these children are improving is really uplifting, and I am appreciative of the hard work that local communities – including parents and teachers – have contributed to realising this success.

Yet, I'm also the type of person who is always going to want more. I won't be completely satisfied until most or all children can read with fluency and comprehension. There’s so much that’s still to be achieved here. I hope this is just the start of the journey.

Read more about the project here.