Celebrate International #LiteracyDay

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

BEL Project StrategiesEvery year, International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide by bringing together governments, multi-and bi-lateral organizations, NGOs, the private sector, communities, teachers, learners and experts to recognize. Today, 8 September, International Literacy Day, we join the global community in celebrating the successful growth of literacy rates around the world.

In honor of International Literacy Day and the release of our new Basic Education and Literacy Project Guide, we asked RI staff Alison Randall, Regional Grants Officer for Africa and Europe, and Mary Jo Jean-Francois, Area of Focus Manager for Basic Education and Literacy, about our strengths within basic education and literacy and how we can continue improving our humanitarian initiatives.

What are the most important components of a basic education and literacy project?

AR: The Rotary family is very passionate about enriching students’ education. When an initial needs assessment is conducted, typically through a visit to the school, the material needs are overwhelmingly obvious. Students are sharing books, teachers don’t have computers, children are seated on a dirt floor. It is natural to want to provide physical materials to conduct class in a comfortable environment but we know merely providing equipment is not sustainable, nor does it create a quality education. After the equipment wears out and breaks down, will students continue to receive quality education? Have they been equipped with valuable knowledge to help them advance and succeed?

If the project site is a school, initial site visits and assessments are key opportunities to meet with teachers and administrators about desired teacher training and curriculum development. There are many soft costs to education beyond desks, books, paper and pencils. Many grants that come across my desk include training and equipment but struggle to integrate these components into a cohesive project. Incorporating the teaching curriculum into the project training plan enhances the project’s impact. For basic education and literacy projects, the community assessment should start with conversations with school administrators and teachers, students, students’ families, and other key members about what they would like for their schools regarding training and support, in addition to a discussion about material needs.

For example, usually the basic needs at a school in a developed nation have been met compared to a school in a developing country. These projects still tend to request material goods, usually smart boards or more sophisticated computer programs for students. In these circumstances, a need has been identified but without incorporating a corresponding teacher training, providing equipment is not sustainable. These types of mistakes can be avoided by directly asking teachers if they have training requests.  Grant sponsors are surprised to find that teachers, even in the most developed nations and advanced educational systems, have a great desire to enhance their own knowledge by learning about different teaching methodologies, cutting edge technology tools, and managing different learning styles, to name a few.

MJJF: We love hearing from international project partners interested in helping address basic education and literacy needs in a different country. Oftentimes, international partners outside of the project country have “pre-developed” a project concept that they would like to apply to a school. Sometimes this cookie cutter strategy can work but typically the project does not address core needs because the local community was not assessed before the project was designed. These projects usually end up being over budget because the international partner identifies additional needs at the school while implementing the grant and tries to alter the project scope to address these new needs. It is critically important for the host schools to identify its own needs even if they don’t align with the international partner’s original project plan. It is important to be flexible.

What types of roles can Rotary members assume to help with project implementation?

AR: There are many ways Rotarians can be involved in the implementation of a basic education and literacy project. I often see primary or secondary education projects where teachers are looking for a helping hand and students can always use a mentor. For example, if a global grant project is providing an evening adult literacy course to parents, the partnering Rotarians can offer a simultaneous mentoring sessions or homework program for the participant’s children.

Rotarians can also help by putting on their networking hats. Our members are business leaders within their communities and can facilitate introductions. For example, some basic education and literacy projects may require cooperating with the Ministry of Education to ensure the project is complying with national education standards, a seemingly daunting effort. Rotarians may be able to help facilitate introductions, partnerships, and agreements.

How do you think the new Basic Education and Literacy Project Guide will help clubs and districts with their projects?

AR: I am very excited about this new project guide! It is a very concise document that provides great global grant examples of how to address problems that occur in real Rotary projects. These are not hypothetical scenarios. The beginning of the document identifies BEL opportunities that occur in almost every county, including developed nations!

MJJF: This guide is a great tool for all Rotary clubs, regardless of their experience with basic education and literacy projects.  I hope that Rotary clubs who are doing smaller projects in their communities can utilize this tool to make their projects stronger.  The best projects are those where Rotarians have long-term involvement with schools in their communities.  This guide can help Rotarians and Rotaractors scale up their projects so that more students can benefit from their great work!


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