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Significant improvement in reading in Government primary schools

HighlightsSignificant improvement in reading in Government primary schools

Photo: L-R: Dr.Lynne Paradis, International Director for the Belize Reading Intervention Program and Saride Ahmad, President of the San Ignacio Rotary Club

by Orlando Pulido

SANTA ELENA TOWN, Cayo District, Sat. June 8, 2024

The first year of mandatory implementation of a Reading Intervention Project in all Standard 2 and Standard 3 government primary schools in Belize has been completed. The Rotary International project, being carried out by the Rotary Club of San Ignacio and the Rotary Club of Red Deer in Alberta, in partnership with the Belize Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology (MoECST), will continue next year due to demonstrated positive results.

Dr. Lynne Paradis, International Director for the Belize Reading Intervention Program, told us that it is a program to assist primary school teachers in improving reading instruction based on current Science of Reading research. The approach to reading is specifically targeted to rescue students who have fallen behind as one outcome of school closures during the COVID pandemic between 2020 and 2022.

The data that was received this past month shows significant improvements in the use of reading decoding skills by students in Standard Two and Standard Three. The Belize and Canadian teams analyzed thousands of pieces of data from pre- and post-program testing in 58 government schools.

According to Paradis, the program is aimed at giving students basic skills to decode words—skills that help in reading. Evidence shows that when teachers use this very specific approach to reading for a half hour a day over five months, the children improve considerably in their ability to read sight words, and to decode words, which are essential foundational skills in developing reading competence. The program was developed and published internationally in 2020, and is based on current reading research; it is being used very effectively in many Canadian schools and teacher-training universities.

“When children are born, their brains have high capacity to learn two or more languages simultaneously. This is evident in Belize, where most children learn Creole, Spanish and English from their home and community environment. There is not any need to provide specific instruction in school. They pick up the words, and they are able to differentiate which words go with which language. It is similar in learning how to read. If you expose children to effective early reading strategies, they master the skills relatively quickly. The younger the child (ideally four years to nine years of age) is taught basic reading foundational skills, the faster they will learn to read,” says Dr. Lynee Paradis.

Paradis continued, ”So, we want to tap into children’s young and growing brains to give them the strategies for reading that they need. As children age, the complex activity of learning to read becomes increasingly difficult. An adult can learn to read, but it is generally more difficult and thus takes longer.”

All branch and community libraries have embraced the program, and are using it in reading support activities for both children and adults. All librarians have been trained in administering the program, and are eager to provide support to any community members visiting their local libraries.

Ms. Erica Lumsden, library assistant at the Santa Elena library, took the reading intervention training and used it with students who came to the library after school. She saw improvements and noted that it was a program that could also be used at home. Erica stated, “It also helps Spanish- speaking parents with their own English language learning.”

Ms. Miriam Garcia, librarian at the Benque library, also took the training (along with literacy workshops) and feels comfortable in supporting students who are struggling with reading. Miriam states, “I now know how to help students when they come in.”

In recent meetings with leaders in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology (MoECST), there was an agreement to support plans to have the reading intervention program utilized in Belize schools next school years. The goal is to improve reading and build teacher skill sets in effective reading intervention strategies that can be used in teaching all subjects.
The number of teachers and administrators embracing a science-based approach to reading intervention has grown considerably across all districts in Belize. This growth in confidence in teaching various reading strategies is having a positive impact on student success in reading.  However, there is still room for growth and improvement.  

President of the San Ignacio Rotary Club, Faride Ahmad expressed appreciation for the partnership between Rotarians from Belize and Canada. ”When it comes to teachers that have the program and use it, you can see the evidence in the statistics demonstrating growth. Progress is significant. When teachers see the progress, they become believers, and become more motivated to improve their teaching practice with the new approach,” said Ahmad.

Faride Ahmad also detailed other works by the San Ignacio Rotary Club: “[Our] signature project is scholarships, so we give scholarships to high school students. We also give scholarships to tertiary level students, and now we are awarding one student at Galen University … we also have our park, our Rotary Park, which is in Santa Elena. We also do toilet blocks — we go to schools that have very poor facilities for the children and we fix their toilets; it’s been a huge thing.” 

Dr. Lynne Paradis extends special thanks to reading program developer, Dr. George Georgio, and his team of researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada for their support, advisement, and extensive data analysis.

The vision for the project is that eventually all teachers and teachers-in-training would become competent in how to assess student reading levels, and then implement effective reading support to students based on the assessments. There is now a large cohort of Belize educators who understand and are encouraged by the program. These emerging Belize reading leaders will serve as the main facilitators for the August 2024 professional development training in reading. As capacity grows in Belize schools with their own reading instruction leaders, the Canadian team of consultants will have achieved their vision for reading improvement in Belize.

Dr. Lynne Paradis will be returning with the Canadian team to work with an expanded team of Belize reading leaders between July 28 and August 10 this year. The group will continue providing training to educators and librarians across Belize.

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