World Education Read Along pilot project improves English literacy amongst schoolchildren

Through the use of a free Google Reading Along app, World Education (WE) pilot project, schoolchildren’s English literacy skills has improved.

Oral vocabulary, letter sound reading speed, non-word reading, oral passage reading, and reading and listening comprehension are among the categories that have improved.

It has motivated teachers, school directors and Ministry of Education (MOE)/Ghana Education Service (GES) counterparts, who have become advocates for continuation and scale up.

These formed part of the findings of the pilot project, which was disseminated at a virtual event dubbed: “From Success to Potential Scale: Ghana’s Read Along pilot shines”.

World Education (WE), a division of John Snow Incorporated, in collaboration with GES and Google, implemented the three-month pilot project between May and August 2023 in the Northern Region to address English Language proficiency gaps of students in primary school.

Participants were former out-of-school girls, aged 13 to 17 years in grades three to six in three schools in the Tolon District, who earlier benefited from the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office-FCDO-funded Strategic Approaches to Girls’ Education project, which was implemented from October 2018 to February 2023.

They practised with the Google Read Along App for three months in daily 15-minute sessions outside regular school hours, guided by trained Mentor Teachers.

Mr Stephen Konde, working for WE, explained that “The App offers offline decoding and word recognition activities and age-appropriate reading materials whilst real-time feedback is given by ‘Diya’, an online reading companion.”

He said An Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) was used in May 2023 to establish baseline literacy levels of 118 girls in three pilot treatment schools (65) and four control schools (53) with no use of Google Read Along App.

He added that the EGRA was used again in August 2023 to measure the impact of the intervention on 53 of the 65 girls in the treatment schools and 45 of the initial 60 girls in the control schools.

In Ghana, formal education is taught in English Language from grade three onwards, but the girls had limited exposure to English Language in their past schooling and daily lives; their English Language literacy skills were incredibly low, with most of them struggling to even pronounce basic letter sounds let alone comprehend grade-level text.

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The assessment results from baseline to the endline, which were released during the virtual event, showed that in oral vocabulary, both the treatment and control groups demonstrated improvement, but the treatment group was able to name 50 per cent more words correctly compared to the control group.

In the area of letter sounds, at the endline, the treatment group read on average 40.5 more letters per minute, almost four times as much as the control group, whilst in the area of non- word reading, children in schools in the control group read 7.7 more words per minute compared to baseline but in the treatment group schools, this was 18 more words per minute.

In the area of oral reading passage, at baseline, the girls averaged reading 12.1 correct words per minute (73 children out of the total of 125 did not read a single word) but at the endline, the treatment group read 34 more words per minute compared to 7.9 words in the control group.

When it came to reading comprehension, at the endline, the treatment group responded to 50 per cent more questions correctly than the students in the control group with the number of zero scores in the treatment group fell 72.4 per cent (58 to 16 children) compared to a fall of 19.5 per cent in the control group (46 children to 37).

On listening comprehension, at baseline, only eight out of the 125 children answered at least one question correctly but at the endline, the treatment group answered 1.6 correct answers out of three questions compared to 0.7 in the control group.

Based on the findings, several recommendations were proposed including expanding the Google Read Along pilot project to reach more children struggling with English literacy in primary schools; including (semi) urban areas or grades one to three.

Mr Willem van de Waal, a Senior Technical Advisor at WE, expressed the organisation’s commitment to exploring ways to continue use of the Google Read Along App or similar technologies that could extend and personalise instruction for children struggling with English proficiency.

He said the organisation would also discuss with stakeholders how lessons learned could contribute to improved literacy and English Language learning in Ghana and beyond.

Mr Kassim Abu, a deputy director at the GES Tolon District Directorate, stated that over the course of the period, GES saw improvements in students’ speedy reading comprehension, head teachers’ oversight of lesson delivery, student and teacher attendance, and students’ interest in teaching and learning to read.

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