Quality education is ranked as the most important Sustainable Developmental Goal of the United Nations, after health, nutrition, and security. It is a goal that all countries are struggling to reach and reading. But reading is a major stumbling block.
The purpose of reading is to develop a connection between text and meaning. Education has decided that the way to make that connection is through phonics. That is, the letters of the word must be converted to sounds, the sounds to word. Saying the word is the indication of comprehension.
That is an epic blunder for at least four reasons:
It is effective for only 80% of readers. The rest are called dyslexic.
It postpones reading by at least 3 years, while the child learns phonetic decoding.
It interferes with speed reading.
It does not tell you meaning, but pronunciation.
The elimination of phonetic decoding opens two questions. How will we teach reading and when will we start? We have always had the answers.
Parents teach their children to listen and speak as a natural part of maturation and they did not wait for school to teach talking. The parent says the word and points to an object, and the child learns easily. Reading starts here. When a parent introduces a new spoken word, show the written word at the same time. The child will learn both.
Will the child remember the written word? The child remembers the spoken word and a spoken word is fleeting. The written word stays as long as the child looks. We take for granted memory for the spoken word, but reading has been a difficult subject, but that no longer need be the case. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening will mature together. We have even developed a smartphone app that allows a baby to learn to read.
This is not just theory. It has been put into practice with amazing results.
In May 2017, a conference at the Miridians Elementary School in Kampala led to a series of proof-of-concept studies on the program originally called Early Reading, but has been renamed Kusoma. Trials were started at Miridians and eight daycare centers in the slums of Nairobi. There was no special training and no expenses. In all studies, children were reading in 4 months. This is documented on video.
Kusoma was incorporated into schools in Kenya and Uganda, and it became clear that preschool children could start Primary 1 already reading and writing and by 2019 we were ready to test whether Primary 1 children on Kusoma could pass the Primary 3 evaluation by the end of the Primary 1 year.
And then Covid closed the schools, and we changed our tactics by showing parents how to teach their children. We developed a teaching manual which was a step-by-step tutorial and a series of demonstration videos on using Kusoma to teach their children. Parents were told about Book Dash and Little Zebras which offer free online books written for African children. Children can bring the library home and use the app to learn new words. All this was available at no cost on standard smartphones and paper versions of the material were made available. By the time the closures were over, we had supported over 900 parents in Kenya.
We used the covid crisis to develop manuals, apps, and videos to help the parents. We turned a crisis into an opportunity and developed the tools we will use in this proposal. The results of the end-of-term testing are becoming available and they show that all the Kusoma students reached or exceeded expectations. Students from other schools were approaching expectations, at best.