Pinocchio had it clear: “(…) at school, I want to learn to read immediately. Then tomorrow, I will learn to write, and the next day I will learn to count. Later, with my skill, I will earn a lot of money.” These words of Carlo Collodi (1882) are still relevant today as we seek to promote a job creation agenda that guarantees the essential components of recovery and transformative growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although processes have become more complex in the last 150 years, leading the labor market to demand more specific skills, we are confident that these skills cannot be achieved without the ability to interpret a text and communicate an idea in writing.
Measurements of the impact of reading skills on the labor market are scarce. Still, there is evidence from two surveys that are beginning to show that Pinocchio was right: the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALL). The IALS data allows us to conclude that those with better literacy skills in the United States were more likely to be employed. In addition, the incomes of those with higher levels were three times higher than those with lower levels.
The Benefits of Learning to Read Are High
The most recent cross-sectional study, carried out by the OECD, is the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which has the participation of some LAC countries. It found a high return on the acquisition of basic skills. For example, good performance in reading increases by 20% the probability of being employed, and in the medium term, improving by 1% in reading would increase GDP per capita by 3%.
In Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador, less than 1% of those evaluated managed to be in the two highest levels of reading skills, and more than half are in the lowest. These results could indicate that more than half of the working-age population can barely understand a short instruction manual.
Data from before the pandemic already showed that more than 30% of 15-year-old students in the region did not manage to extract the main idea from a text. This jeopardizes a generation’s labor potential and the region’s development. These results contradict the region’s literacy rate, which exceeds 90%, and raise a debate about what can be done.
Let’s All Learn to Read: The Program That Aims to Create Readers
In line with the lesson that Pinocchio left us, we are convinced that to improve people’s employability, income level, and career projection, we must ensure they are functionally literate. That means reading, understanding, and using reading and writing to learn throughout life.
Let’s All Learn to Read (ATAL) is a program of explicit, systematic, structured teaching with formative assessment support. The program promotes the development of precursors in early childhood education. It also fosters acquiring, developing, and consolidating fundamental reading and writing skills in the first grades.
After five years of intervention in the program in Colombia, students learn up to 30% more competencies in reading, according to the impact evaluations. This program began in Colombia and provided tools for teachers to focus on literacy in the first grades. The strategy has spread to Panama and Brazil and has benefited more than 1,192,699 children and teachers from public schools in the region.
Teaching Reading to Avoid the “Matthew Effect” and Provide Equal Opportunities
In explicit teaching, students are not expected to make deductions and develop reading and writing strategies independently because some children need help to infer the alphabetic system’s particularities.
Suppose a student in a situation of socio-economic vulnerability does not have access to a quality education that allows him or her to learn early literacy. In that case, he or she will be affected in his or her future learning and even in his or her work performance, which will increase the gaps with his or her peers who learn to read at the appropriate age. This is what is known as the Matthew effect.
With ATAL we seek to offer equal opportunities in the years of initial education.
We invite you to explore the different versions of the ATAL material that are characterized by the following:
- Variety of materials: printed, digital, and open-source audiovisual materials.
- Structured didactic sequences address the foundational skills and promote formative assessment.
- They are articulated to the national reading and writing policies of each country.
- They expand teacher training and student learning processes through QR links to available digital and multimodal materials.
- The fungible and non-fungible materials offer alternatives that suit the needs and budgets of the entities.
- An attractive graphic proposal that promotes the biodiversity and multiculturalism of the region.
The Let’s All Learn To Read program promotes the right to read and write and the formation of competent readers.
Learning to read is the foundation for acquiring the rest of the skills that are needed to thrive in this 21st century. So what can schools and society do to close gaps and guarantee the right to read and write for all boys and girls? Leave us your comment!