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Phonics by Phone: children who can read get the best start in life! [Updated 5th Jan 2015]

To help tackle the shockingly poor reading outcomes of young children in poor communities, we propose to create a basic phonics course for teachers and parents, delivered directly to their existing mobile phone. Rather than taking adults from their community and teachers from their classes, we will develop a high-grade audio course in phonics, accessed by download to a non-smart phone, free on demand. The course will be backed by other materials viewed digitally or in hard copy, together with local mentoring and coaching. We will also develop a teacher-friendly means of assessing children’s reading ability to test the impact of improved teaching. All this to be developed in a phased manner, and fully piloted in different countries.

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Our big idea is to help change the way children in very poor communities are taught to read, so that more of them become literate, and at an earlier age.
 
Why does this matter? Here are three key findings from UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report (2011 and 2013):
  • A child who cannot read will struggle to learn anything else;
  • If all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty;
  • A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past age 5.
Despite recent educational gains (including higher rates of kindergarten and school attendance), far too few children in poor countries learn to read well.  By comparison with developed countries, this gap is massive - no sub-Saharan African country scores even 10% fluent readers by early primary age, whereas in developed countries around 80% of children regularly achieve this standard. [see footnote 1]
 
The main reason for poor reading outcomes in low-income countries is failure to teach early literacy correctly.  The children are as capable of learning as any other children!  They would succeed much better if their teachers knew how to use synthetic phonics (reading using letter sounds), rather than word memorisation.  If equipped with this same simple phonics knowledge, their parents could play a significant role too, by preparing their child for reading (developing listening skills, teaching and reinforcing letter sounds, and later practising reading at home).
 
Here is an extract from a recent (2014) international report on reading in one sub-Saharan country:
 “What do we know about the 2% of primary pupils who can read well?... Children who can read are significantly more likely to.... be able to pronounce the sounds of individual letters, and combine letter sounds to read words”.  
After two years of primary school, most children in African schools cannot sound individual letters, nor combine them into words and hence sentences – the phonic essentials needed by every child.
 
What problems would we have to overcome to double early literacy rates?
In poor countries, typically:
  • Classes are large (and growing) because there are too few trained teachers.
  • This shortage of trained teachers is even worse in hard-to-reach areas than in the big cities.
  • Initial teacher training techniques are often poor, and there is little ongoing support
  • Books and teaching materials are scarce and often culturally inappropriate – teachers and parents have had no hand in shaping them.
  • Many parents want to help teach their own children to read – but no-one shows them how, in a form they can access and understand.
  • Travel – either bringing trainers to the trainees, or the reverse – is too expensive..
The solution
The current set of problems holding back literacy outcomes requires a radical solution: a new way of training teachers that is better, quicker, cheaper and more universal.
 
We propose to bring training to teachers and parents– free or very cheaply – wherever they actually are, by way of the phone that is already in their pocket or bag.

A group of organisations and individuals with wide-ranging and complementary experience (the "Phonics by Phone" consortium) have come together for the purposes of the Amplify's challenge. This collaboration brings together organisations with substantial experience and knowledge of effective literacy education using the phonics method as well as wider experience of working in partnership with governments and donors in education reform. Each of these organisations has a shared vision of giving all children access to highly effective and proven methods of being able to read and write successfully and thus allowing all children the best start in life.

[Updated 17/12/2014]
The organisations which are part of this consortium are:
  • Educators International: a UK based charity using the skills of professional educators on an entirely voluntary basis. (www.educatorsinternational.org.uk)
  • Sabre Trust: a Ghana-based charity supporting the Ghana Education Service to test new approaches to improve the quality of early years’ education, which can be replicated at scale. (www.sabretrust.org)
  • Universal Learning Solutions is a UK-based not-for profit organisation that has extensive experience of working with teachers and governments in delivering literacy programmes based on the synthetic phonics method. (www.universallearningsolutions.org)
  • Jolly Learning: publishes the Jolly Phonics programme, which is used around the world for the early teaching of reading and writing. (www.jollylearning.co.uk)
  • Every1Mobile: Every1Mobile delivers education, health and livelihoods content and services to young people in sub-Saharan Africa via the mobile web and social media for major international development agencies and NGOs. (www.every1mobile.net)

We propose to create a basic phonics course for teachers and parents, delivered directly to their existing mobile phone.  Instead of taking adults out of their community and away from their classes, we propose to offer them a high-grade audio course in phonics, accessed by download to a standard mobile phone (and/or other devices when available), on demand and in their own location. The first six of these audio units can now be listened to at  http://phonicsghana.net/kg-teachers/. [Updated 17/12/2014]
 
The course will be accessible via WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and/or radio, on the ordinary phones that poorly-paid teachers currently own - not just on smartphones.  Teachers (and later parents) will be able to receive the audio components of the course, with accompanying text-based coursework, quizzes and blogging/feedback, via a mobile-optimised website, which we intend to build into the first-ever phone-based social network of teachers in each targeted country.  The course will be based on international best practice in training of synthetic phonics.  It will link directly to an extensive and respected range of teaching materials developed since 1993 by a leading international distributor of synthetic phonics materials.
 

We hereby invite Amplify/DFID to host this website and make it airtime-free to access via a mobile phone; also to provide small incentives in the form of airtime credit for any teacher who a) registers on the site b) uses it actively, eg participates in quizzes etc; and c) qualifies through the different stages of the course.  Such teachers could be invited to become Phonics Leaders/ Champions and be rewarded for introducing parents and other adults in the community to literacy via phonics training.  They might qualify for extra training and attention from government and other training networks, perhaps later leading to employment or career benefits.

 
Why is this idea unique and “first”?
 
  • No African or Asian country is delivering substantial elements of initial teacher training via any type of mobile phone.
  • While some in-service teacher training apps are being developed for smart phones, no such efforts have been made for simple feature phones of the kind used by the vast majority of teachers and parents in poor communities.  Smart phones only reach the urban elite.
  • Though some teacher training in Asia is being delivered via SMS, no country is using the phone’s unique capacity to deliver audio training, whether in phonics or anything else.
  • The use of a “dot mobi” website (a low-cost, low-graphics, data-lean mobile-optimised website) is already established in Africa for propagating health and other useful messages.  But use of a mobile-optimised website to deliver systematic training of teachers (initial and in-service) would be wholly new anywhere in the developing world.
  • It would also be a first to involve serving teachers in the creation and voicing of courses.
What are the technical challenges?
The proposal will use existing equipment at all levels.  The units/lessons will require no high-tech equipment to record or prepare for broadcast: just a simple microphone and recording device (phone, MP3 device, laptop etc) - though access to a radio studio would be ideal.  Dissemination will be via a) the website, b) live radio broadcasts (from existing FM stations) and c) locally via computer labs using a laptop, memory stick, Raspberry Pi or other storage device. 
 
The ‘dot mobi’ site we create will be accessible even on a ten-year-old feature phone with a small screen using internet WAP settings.  Because our course (audio and text) will be data-lean, the unit costs of airtime will be low.
 
Our aim is to link intelligently all three elements of the course and its community:  the audio units (“course”), the linked written materials (explanation, illustration, quizzes and tests), and the social network (blogs, assessment, leader-boards, badges, rewards).  We would do this by creating an integrated pair of websites: a mobile-optimised one for voice, and another for text, graphic and other data-hungry applications (eg phonics support materials). 
 
While the priority of this proposal is teaching phonics, we aim also to achieve a closely related objective: to provide readers in remote locations with a wide range of attractive and relevant reading materials.  We would aim to hook up with suppliers of digital books such as Worldreader (see this link).  Worldreader is using proprietary software to make books downloadable and readable even on basic feature phones – thus minimising the need for e-readers, tablets or smart phones .  Even where screen size is too small for reading, the ability to download books and images to a feature phone would allow them to be read later on a larger screen when available.  We would like with Amplify/DFID support to test how many words/pages can be compressed onto the external memory card (Micro SD) accessible by different types of basic phone.

Footnote 1:  taking Ghana as an example, the May 2014 Early Grade Reading Assessment (see this link) shows that by the end of P2 ie typically four years of school, less than 2% of children in Ghana can read fluently and with comprehension; less than half can read a single word in any language; and 75% cannot answer a single comprehension question correctly after hearing a grade-appropriate short story read in English.

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

This programme is primarily targeted at teacher trainees – especially unqualified community volunteer teachers – in low-income countries. Initially it is mainly directed at countries where English is the major language. There are 250 million children actually attending KG and primary school in the 17 English-speaking DFID-priority poor countries (see note below) and if we divide by 50 (assumed PTR) this suggests at least 5 million teachers could benefit immediately from better techniques of teaching early literacy in some combination of mother tongue and English. Source: UNESCO GMR 2013 Table 5 (2011 primary enrolment in Bangladesh, Burma, Ghana, India, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, S Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) [Updated 17/12/2014] Engaging with Parents Phonics by Phone offers accessibility to information about how to teach phonics to parents as well as teachers, and these are some of the ways the project will engage with and support parents: • Many parents who want to support their children to learn to read but do not know how will have some readily accessible resources/support to do so through the Phonics by Phone programme. • Where printed materials aren’t available, the phonics songs and rhymes can still be used effectively by parents to support the learning of sounds. • It is a resource which can easily be promoted and shared by teachers amongst parents to gain parents/community support both in and outside the classroom to support children to learn to read – our experience in Ghana shows kindergarten specific Parent-Teacher Association meetings to be particularly effective in this respect. • Where the Phonics by Phone project is supported by additional resources (access to online resources and training on the ground by local NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) education networks), the way children in KG and above are taught to read through phonics could be transformed; parents will be supported to teach their children to read at home, and teachers better equipped to teach literacy in school.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

[Updated 17/12/2014] The first three things we plan to do are to a) re-record some audio units from English-voice to local-voice; b) actively gather feedback from the teachers who have piloted these units; and c) begin to create a value-added measurement tool, based on standardised early grade reading assessments. If we had more than a month we would d) trial our units in a second English-speaking country. We have begun the piloting of this project in Ghana by: • Hiring a Ghana based coordinator, funded by a small grant from Vodafone Foundation • Acquiring two websites, www.phonicsghana.net and www.phonicsghana.mobi . Both are live but in need of further development and user testing. • Beginning to create the first audio units, which have begun to be uploaded onto www.phonicsghana.net. We have so far created the first six audio units which are on http://phonicsghana.net/kg-teachers/. We would plan to further refine these audio units using the substantial experience of our consortium partners but also learning from the experience of the OpenIDEO community. In developing these audio units we will be heavily relying on our strong partners in Ghana to ensure they are contextually appropriate as well as ensuring these units combine to ensure a comprehensive programme of literacy education. • Beginning to build a team of people capable of not just creating the units but working with early years teachers and parents to trial their use to gain user feedback so we can further improve the units. Again it would be great to here to get feedback from other IDEO community members also. Our next steps are now, by the end of March 2015 to have: • Established an active user group of teachers and parents who have registered on www.phonicsghana.net and are accessing it regularly (metric: how many hits/downloads) and are finding it useful (metric: feedback on the accompanying blog and instant surveys) • Established a small group of Phonics Ghana Champions (teachers and educators helping us to create, develop, test and embed the teaching in kindergarten classes). By the end of 2015 we plan subject to funding (IDEO, help us out here!) to have • Developed an assessment methodology that allows parents and teachers to measure the success of 5 year old children in pre-reading/writing and early actual reading/writing. •Extended this project to multiple countries

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

[Updated 17/12/2014] This proposal does not emerge from thin air. It has been the subject of much thought and development, and is now going into a piloting phase in one country. We have established a consortium to carry it forward. We would need some seed funding to enable the consortium to deliver larger opportunities. We look forward to continuing to receive ideas and input from the community members and exploring how other ideas in the 'refinement phase' complement ours, and vice versa.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.

67 comments

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Spam
Photo of Tinotenda Dube
Team

This idea is indeed worthy of action. You have mentioned that you propose to provide training for teachers and parents whether "free or cheaply". I could be off the mark, however I don't think it is viable or even possible to provide large scale training such as this at a low cost. Maybe research the kind of training these communities are already receiving and perhaps relate that to your idea. Great idea nevertheless!

Spam
Photo of Kağan Rüstem
Team

Its great that you have identified that a great number of people in the areas you want to help have access to some kind of mobile phone, albeit relatively basic handsets. I like that you have made the connection with using this as an effective way of getting your idea across to large numbers of people.

I think at a young age children are always drawn to technology like phones which will likely make them want to engage and this could prove to be an effective means of education.

Are there any examples of this having been done elsewhere? Is there anything from this you can learn and implement in your own idea?

Spam
Photo of Irene Blas
Team

Using mobiles phones is a great idea but maybe such small sreens are hurtful for children to read from them. And those who havent got mobile phones?

Spam
Photo of Sascha Chennell
Team

This is a really good initiative and wishing you lots of success with it.

Spam
Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Thank you. we are excited by its potential to transform lives!

Spam
Photo of Sheena Campbell
Team

Thank you Sascha ...

Spam
Photo of Judy and David Hawker
Team

This strikes me as a brilliant yet simple idea, and eminently practical. I do think it has the potential to transform the way in which parents and children access the basic building blocks of English literacy, and I have no doubt that it could work in other languages too, given suitable adaptation. It certainly deserves to be funded as a pilot. This will not only give the opportunity to prove the concept in practice, but also to look at how to build effective links with the formal teacher training programmes, and with mainstream KG and primary school. Its impact will be greatly enhanced if it complements the rest of the system rather than being something separate from it.

Good luck for the final stage!

Spam
Photo of Katherine van Wyk
Team

I'd like to address specifically the mobile component of this idea - which often becomes embroiled in technical jargon and even risks becoming the central idea itself! Mobile is simply, because of its current reach and projected growth, a very efficient and effective delivery mechanism for a great idea. Without a great idea, it doesn't mean much. The success of its use remains as much HUMAN as it is technical.

E1M has a proven platform and mobile tools to access and engage people at the base of the pyramid and those in the emerging middle class in sub-Saharan Africa via mobile. We run a series of mobile services (mobi-sites) across health, education and livelihoods and our dedicated Community Managers manage daily interaction with hundreds of thousands of users across Africa and keep content valuable and meaningful. Comments, opinions, polls, learning quizzes, user-generated content, expert questions and answers, short courses, peer forums, surveys, diaries....Mobile for Development is no longer ONE WAY push messaging- it is TWO WAY and highly interactive - and E1M specialiazes in low-end devices, which is key given the context of this idea and its target audience.

How do people find these sites? They are listed on some of the most populous social media messaging platforms in Africa; we work with partner organisations who have physical networks and access to communities on the ground to whom they promote our sites; where possible we work in partnership with Mobile Network Operators.

This idea is not only scalable, but the concept of a mobile-based Phonics 'Course' paired with an online community of teachers and experts can be replicated to deliver information and interactive services and peer-to-peer community to the general public or targeted populations (parents, students, frontline health workers, informal entrepreneurs) around any development topic... (financial literacy, maternal health, vocational development, academic studies..)

In some cases digital literacy, or "cell phone literacy"(eg. how to access internet on your phone and get the most out of it) may be required. We don't see this as a long term barrier as mobile continues to become entrenched in our daily lives, but acknowledge that teachers specifically over the age of 35 may need some encouragement and direction to make full use of the devices they own - this is where local partnerships in the field are invaluable. Other population groups, specifically youth, will require little or no intervention to navigate proficiently. We have witnessed peers helping each other to navigate and find 'the best content' or a specific site- and in the process gaining valuable, fun, learning and debate with friends, peers or family.

We also think that there is huge potential for this idea to generate extremely valuable data and feedback from frontline educators and reflect this back to the education research and development community - and mobile is a powerful way of achieving this too!

Spam
Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hello Phonics by Phone Team! We've been having early childhood experts take a look at the ideas in Refinement and they've given this piece of feedback: Have you read impact evaluations of IAI (Interactive Audio Instruction) or IRI (Interactive Radio Instruction)? It seems that this Phonics by Phone idea has great potential, but it appears that it is a second generation type of idea that can find roots in IRI or IAI. There are many lessons and challenges that would be important to take into account to improve on the use of technology in ECD instruction.

Spam
Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Thanks for this Chioma, I have spent an informative couple of hours accessing yet more videos and research documents by the Education Development Center. Of course we were well aware of IRI and our Phonics by Phone course aims to build on the impact evaluations to which you refer, but feel we add something unique with our combination of use of simple feature phones and .mobi site which enables those registered to interact in a fresh and immediate way.

Spam
Photo of Michael Stark
Team

Can I add to this, Chioma? You ask if we've read the various IAI and IRI impact evaluations - yes we have, we've been following the history of this for several years, including EDC's often ground-breaking programmes. We admire many of these but....

* "Interactive radio instruction" clearly has fantastic potential since people have radios, and has been used for many years - but very inconsistently and has had at best patchy results when used to teach children. Unless the radio "instruction" is mediated and supported by a competent trained adult it doesn't seem to deliver consistently good outcomes.

* Interactive auditory instruction" is dependent on a particular carrier (CD player, mp3 player etc) which may be in the hands of an intermediary but not consistently in the hands of end learners, so this too depends on competent adults.

* There is a sense in which these aren't interactive at all - how can you feed back to a radio set?? or indeed to a disembodied voice on a pre-recorded SD card??

* We regard all previous IAI and IRI as very useful background and experience,from which lessons can definitely be learned. But they are not "first generation" where we are merely following as "second generation". Our project has unique features set out in the section of the main post "Why is this unique and "first"?"

* To contrast with (for example) the EDC-backed SteppingStone programme, which uses learning apps pre-recorded onto phone SD cards - we like it, it undoubtedly has a place, but it also differs in important ways from our model:

1. The "sell an app" business model requires a learner to purchase a specific learning app. That will only work if there is a well-articulated existing demand amongst a viably large group of users. At the bottom end (say subsistence farmers), those users don't yet know what's available and how it could benefit them. It would be the first time they ever made this leap into learning, but it requires them to invest their own money to buy an unknown product (and perhaps, the carrier phone). It's widely known in developed phone markets that the best route to app penetration is instant download of free or cross-subsidised items, drawing the user into purchase of something else later - the SD card sale-on-the-street model will take a lot longer to get established.

2. Anything requiring SD cards and using graphics will likely require Android and/or Java which the feature phones in our teachers' pockets mostly don't have.

3. The absence of internet means no feedback loop, no learning community, no emergence of Learning Champions, no capacity for the learners (teachers) to make and disseminate their own new audio clips and units, including in their own mother tongue, free.

4. This SD purchase model works for vocational instruction material for slightly wealthier and more savvy adults. It doesn't work for mass instruction of children in poor areas who don't have phones. Yes, someone (a donor with deep pockets) could buy enough phones for every child - but unless we engage the teachers and parents that would not improve methods of instruction.

5. Unlike any previous IAI or IRI, the model we have developed uses the phone already in the teacher's (and parent's) pocket. This means the transmission of information at virtually no cost (because the website would be zero-rated, and backed by free transmission of the same material by radio for penetration). Therefore the model could "go viral" much more rapidly, and more creatively since there are no cost or production limitations.

Spam
Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Michael and Charlotte - thanks for your responses! I think that the experts were pushing towards something that you've touched on in your answer – namely what you have learned from other interventions that has influenced your project idea. It appears that using appropriate technology, establishing demand and providing appropriate feedback are key considerations you have turned your minds to. It will be interesting to learn more about the feedback you get from teachers about what would motivate them to incorporate this system into their teaching and how they would fit this system into their current obligations.

Spam
Photo of Michael Stark
Team

Chioma, we want to respond more fully to two questions you have raised:

“I understand that the focus of the program is in teaching English phonics – but how do you plan to communicate what you are doing to parents? Will that just be from in person training, or will there be recordings, text messages, etc. in the mother tongue? “

and

“One of the key assumptions of your idea is that parents and teachers would use this product – how could you begin to test this assumption and get an understanding of the behaviour changes required to adopt this process? What methods of outreach and education do you plan to use to get people to use this service? “

To summarise - we are not mainly aiming to get rural parents to log on to the website themselves. The website is mainly for KG and primary teachers. They will use materials on the website to train parents face to face. The website will include units on involving parents more fully in their children's education – connecting home and school. See also my post yesterday about English and mother tongue.

Now let me explain that more fully.

In rural, remote communities of the type we are targeting, the great majority of parents cannot speak English or read. Even if they own a phone, they probably use it little for reasons of cost. It would be an enormous stretch to expect them to access the internet and start proactively teaching their child to read. They really do want their children to be educated, making great sacrifices to send them to KG/school regularly. But they feel completely unable to support their children’s learning because of their own illiteracy and lack of schooling. They see the job of educating as being firmly in the hands of teachers.

By contrast, KG teachers know that the children would learn much better if supported at home, but they struggle for suitable outreach activities to train parents and older siblings to do, to support early reading development.

So there is a large change of mind-set needed – but it’s one that schools in Ghana very much want to achieve.

The .mobi site will provide a forum for teachers to discuss and learn about strategies for bringing parents into the fold. Instead of just listening to a long PTA meeting, teachers could invite parents to a simple 'open day', to show activities they already do with KG children. They would invite parents to JOIN IN activities to improve speaking and listening, auditory discrimination, letter sound and formation and early blending skills. The beauty of these early activities is that they are transferable skills for any language. And of course, if the teachers themselves are running these activities, they would mainly be using mother tongue to communicate.

We cannot emphasise enough how important is this bringing of parents into the classroom, to see that it is not an alien world from which they are excluded their own ignorance – that on the contrary they can contribute.

And in other countries, whenever parents have been welcomed into schools, this stimulates them to learn more themselves, which brings many other gains. Please note our previously cited evidence: a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to survive beyond age 5.

So the engagement of parents, albeit indirect, is a central element of what the .mobi site will achieve. The EGRA findings show that the small minority of children who can read also have the opportunity to practice at home. These are not just the more affluent homes - the EGRA testing was done in schools where parents are almost all of low socio-economic status. Parental engagement is the key factor in any child’s development - but teachers are usually the best intermediaries to secure that well-directed engagement.

Spam
Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Michael, thanks for this response, it's very helpful. Parental engagement in learning is so important and a challenge that is faced by teachers around the world. Participating in your program sounds like a great opportunity and entry point for parental involvement. I'm happy to see your idea involves linking teachers to strategies to get parents in the door.

Spam
Photo of Sheena Campbell
Team

Chioma, we are keen to add some comments on two questions which people have raised:
a) how do you know you can secure teachers’ full-hearted support and engagement?
b) what have you learned /adapted as a result of participating in this Open Ideo challenge?

The best way to answer these together is to refer back to our experience map. Do you remember “Salamatu”, our volunteer teacher in a remote village? She is a real person, whom we actually met in the course of a training programme in December. Her colleagues had attended a centrally-organised workshop on phonics, but as a volunteer she had not been included. She hadn’t had a chance to try the new ideas out – even for her colleagues it had all gone too quickly, leaving them with a few misconceptions. Talking to her, we asked whether having some audio clips which she could receive on her phone would help. She was very enthusiastic and described how desperate she is to improve her skills, and also to be seen as useful and valuable to the children and their parents. She sees this kind of phone instruction as being perhaps the only way she will ever achieve those skills.

What we have learned from is this Open Ideo is right to focus on the person at the end of the chain – the volunteer teacher, who can then do great things for both the children and their parents.

Spam
Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Great insights Sheena, thanks very much for sharing!

Spam
Photo of LifeNet International
Team

Literacy is an important problem to tackle and it's good to see discussion on ideas responding to it. As I read through the idea and the comments, a couple questions come to mind.

To what extent is cell phone literacy and reading proficiency required for end-users accessing the ap? If the end user requires help with the access and use of the technology (phone/downloads/ap/etc.), is there a way to measure these new barriers against the older barriers associated with literacy training (listed in your idea description)? Have you encountered any studies analyzing the success of existing technology-based solutions to other education gaps? Lastly, attached to the previous question, what is the relationship between cell phone ownership and existing literacy rates? (if people who don't own cell phones are more likely to be illiterate, then that is something to take into account)

Thanks and best regards!

Michael B

Spam
Photo of Kieran Cooke
Team

Thanks for these questions, Michael.

The initial target group is trainee teachers, using their own phone (we found that 90% of teachers on the Ghana programme, even those who have apparently zero or negative income, do have a phone and know how to use it). It may be different in sophisticated urban settings where parents may themselves access it, but we don't expect many users to be illiterate parents who don't have phones. Rather the KG teachers will mediate the information to them through open days in KG classes, and face to face work with parents in the community, drawing them into the school and into their child's learning. See our responses to some of the questions from the IDEO team. This is not an end-user app (where the child or parent - with exceptions) accesses the website) but one directed at teachers and others who already have a phone - albeit an extremely simple one.

The significant difference from earlier phone-based programmes is that if you possess any phone at all, you can not just access (download) someone else's material, but also contribute and feed back (upload), on a basis of complete equality.

Spam
Photo of Dominic Bond
Team

It is so exciting to see this idea taking shape, and gaining such positive feedback. The teaching of phonics to under 5s is a core component of the Sabre Trust's work in Ghana, and the ability to further support teachers, and reach parents with a phone based teaching aid is incredibly exciting.

We believe we have a great testing ground in Ghana, working with engaged and enthusiastic teachers and student teachers, in a network of classrooms where parents are increasingly interested by what is happening at school, and keen to learn how they can help their 4 and 5 year old children get the best start to their educational journeys.

Fingers crossed that this project makes the final cut for Top Ideas - the potential to improve early education is tremendous, as so many of the comments on this thread have already recognised. What's more the concept is already in a pilot phase, using and adapting a phonics-based approach for pre-primary learning that has been tested and honed in the live classroom environment.

Well done to the team for all their efforts to far!

Spam
Photo of Eloise Awure-Nsoh
Team

The team at Sabre has been working in Ghana with KG teachers and introducing the Ullo Phonics programme as part of the Transformational Teacher Training (TTT) programme. We have been so pleased with the positive feedback. Some experiences we've had using phonics related to teachers and Pupils include;

Through the TTT programme children have been taught to have good listening skills and learn through play
Teaching Ullo Phonics has broadened children's vocabulary – encourages more than one word as an example of a letter sound, not just “'a' for apple” but many words with the letter sound in it, including words from the local language, Fante. Children are enabled to apply their knowledge of letter sounds far more widely.
Initially teachers were not very enthusiastic about phonics but were encouraged when they began to see positive results in the children's learning. Now teachers embrace teaching phonics and are now confident in teaching it.
In KG1 children's listening skills developed, children began linking sounds in the environment. Teachers became excited when children recognised letter sounds and could respond to the first sound of their names.
Teaching phonics has enabled children in KG2 to read and write 3 letter words. They have acquired letter sound skills and grow in confidence in tackling new words in both English and Fante. Ullo phonics supports teachers to use words in the local language.
Comparing our children's abilities to the results of the EGRA (P2 children); 3 letter words were a problem in the EGRA results but our children can read 3 letter words at KG level because they have been taught phonics.
P1 teachers confirmed KG2 pupils were reading words they could see in the classroom environment when they came to visit their classrooms and were attempting to sound out unfamiliar words.

Some experiences we've had using phonics related to Parental involvement include;
It is a challenge to get parents involved as a high percentage of them may be uneducated.
Phonics is new to them as it has not been a part of their learning experience.
Parents are indirectly involved in supporting their children to learn to read as they observe their children's performance and ability.
A small number of Headteachers used PTA meetings as a forum to educate parents on phonics songs and activities, so that the parents can support children's learning at home. Phonics by Phone could really support this.
At our Parents Forum we learned that some parents had become aware of the positive results of phonics teaching in a local public school and taken their children out of a private school to enrol them in the Sabre public school instead.
In one school compound parents saw a KG2 child reading 3 letter words better than children in the same compound who were in P3 and P4. The parents asked the teacher to teach phonics to the older children over the holiday period.

Some experiences we've had using phonics related to Ghana Education Service District (GES) Offices include;
GES accept and comment positively on the phonics programme.
Circuit Supervisors see the phonics programme creating a difference in the schools accessing the KG training compared to those in their Circuit that aren't part of it. They report that pupils moving from KG2 to P1 are doing better than their friends from other schools who's teachers are not benefiting from the programme, for example in reading and writing 3 letter words.

(continued below)

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Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on making it to the Zero to Five Challenge Refinement list, Kieran! We like how you are attempting to create a widely-accessible solution to a big problem that many children around the world face and that you’ve done a lot of research. We’d love to know more about your team and your idea. There are many components of this idea – what would do you plan on focusing on first? What are the first steps you could begin now to make this idea real? How will you create the curriculum that you plan to use? If you have a sample, can you share it with the OpenIDEO community? How will you test it? You have mentioned this idea could apply to both parents and teachers – consider amending your idea to clearly articulate how this idea would specifically benefit parents of children ages 0 to 5. Help us get a sense of how parents and teachers could use this product by creating a User Experience Map for each group http://ideo.pn/0to5-map. One of the key assumptions of your idea is that parents and teachers would use this product – how could you begin to test this assumption and get an understanding of the behaviour changes required to adopt this process? What methods of outreach and education to you plan to use to get people to use this service? Finally, it’s awesome that you have assembled a consortium to help bring this idea to life – we’d love to know the members of your team, please share! And check out more tips for Refinement http://ideo.pn/0to5-tips-refine.

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Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Great stuff, Kieran. Wow – you guys have been busy! Something we'd love to learn more about is the user "feedback on the accompanying blog and instant surveys" that you mention. Can you share a link to the blog so everyone here can check out the goodness on this? And what kinds of questions are you asking on your instant surveys – plus what kinds of responses and learnings is this providing?

Have there been any surprises along the way which have challenged your assumptions and led to iterations of your program?

Finally – it could be great if you might add the links to your sites directly to your idea post above so that everyone in our OpenIDEO community can check them out easily.

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Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Oh – and loving your User Experience Map. Really helps understand your idea in a human-centered way!

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Photo of Kieran Cooke
Team

In response to your questions (see also our updated Q&A document):

We plan to have this blog and instant surveys in place by end of March 2015 (see ‘How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?’ in our post). But we know what it will look like because we have seen blogs operating on other feature-phone optimised sites across Africa (e.g. http://besmart.every1mobile.net/,
http://usay.every1mobile.net/ and http://smartsex.every1mobile.net), which like ours are managed by our consortium member Every1Mobile. The questions posed to users to feedback on should ideally be simple menu-driven ones, mainly involving selecting 1, 2, 3 etc from a range of short text options. Free text options need mainly to be limited to short responses eg of SMS/tweet length. However one can get a fantastic amount of feedback in that way.

Our coordinator in Ghana has been surprised by the level of knowledge that teachers have of even the simplest concepts of the phonics approach and this has led to iterations to ensure we are beginning from a more basic level. Another useful learning point has been that some teachers have become confused between which information is to help their own understanding and which provides activities for the teachers to use with the pupils. We have therefore refined the structure to make it clearly have two strands to avoid this confusion. We will continue our user testing to refine it further!

We have added our site (http://phonicsghana.net/) into our post but because of the limited formatting options it is not particularly clear. The website is being regularly update with more exciting content.

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Really great work Kiran (and Team)! Thank you for sharing all that you are learning and the audio samples with us. Listening to them got me thinking – Ghana's official language is English – does that mean that parents, young children and primary school teachers at the village/rural level are conversant in English? Can you tell us more about what you mean about Amplify hosting the website affiliated with this idea? Our program will provide funding and design support to a subset of our winners, but we don't actually implement the winning ideas. If we don't host the site/provide airtime – have you thought of alternatives?

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Very interesting Michael, thank you. The sound recording that I listened to online was only in English. I understand that the focus of the program is in teaching English phonetics – but how do you plan to communicate what you are doing to parents? Will that just be from in person trainings, or will there be recordings, text messages, etc. in the mother tongue? Also, Kieran, thanks for the clarification above. Happy New Year!

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Photo of wekesa zab
Team

Happy 2015. - jus came across this startup
http://www.sterio.me/ .. " engages learners outside the classroom via mobile to reinforce in-classroom learning. A “sterio” is a pre-recorded interactive lesson delivered via an SMS-triggered inbound voice call to the learner, which is accessible to learners even with feature or basic phones and does not require internet access."

Check them out on possible engagements and way in which you guys might benefit from learnings ..

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Photo of Lis Smart
Team

A brilliant scheme, many congratulations to all concerned

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Thanks for your support Lis. I know that with all your experience of teaching young children you really understand the crucial impact that phonics can have on the acquisition of literacy skills, particularly for children with English as an additional language. We will continue to pick your brains! x

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Photo of Malele Ngalu
Team

Dear Charlotte


This is a great idea, three quick ones, at what stage are you with your project, and what is the critical mass that you intended to reach in 2015, have you considered expanding into other markets in East Africa especially Kenya?

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Dear Ngalu, thank you for your encouragement. This paragraph from our post seems to answer most of your questions

Our next steps are, by the end of March 2015 to have: • Established an active user group of teachers and parents who have registered on www.phonicsghana.net and are accessing it regularly (metric: how many hits/downloads) and are finding it useful (metric: feedback on the accompanying blog and instant surveys) • Established a small group of Phonics Ghana Champions (teachers and educators helping us to create, develop, test and embed the teaching in kindergarten classes). By the end of 2015 we plan subject to funding (IDEO, help us out here!) to have • Developed an assessment methodology that allows parents and teachers to measure the success of 5 year old children in pre-reading/writing and early actual reading/writing. •Extended this project to multiple countries...
......and Kenya would indeed be one that we would consider.
We reckon there are around 6500 teachers currently enrolled on the UTDBE (Unqualified Teacher Training Diploma in Basic Education) in Ghana and these will form our initial target group. We will also promote our course particularly to community teachers who are also parents of young children and encourage them to spread the word among their friends and acquaintances.
The bottom line is if we manage to get the DFID Amplify funding, many more things will become possible so watch this space!
Here's hoping!

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Photo of Maurizio Bricola
Team

This is a great idea! Have you considered to reach out teachers and parents do either do not have a feature phone (just a voice a text one) or do not have a phone at all? In this case you might want to have your audio files played by a community radio, for example.
I think involving community radios is a good strategy as well for sensitization and awareness, how do you plan to make your users aware of your service and make sure they are able to enter the URL of your website in their WAP browser and download your MP3?
Approaching 2015 and looking towards the future it is worth to consider if the statement about features phones and smart-phones is still valid. A basic voice-text phone with no WAP it costs between 10 to 15 dollars in Kenya (i.e.: http://www.jumia.co.ke/wiko-lubi-3-dual-sim-blue-36703.html with FM receiver), a WAP phone is about 50 dollars (i.e: http://www.jumia.co.ke/nokia-110-dual-sim-black-6607.html) a smart-phone is from 50 above (i.e.: http://www.jumia.co.ke/smartphones/?sort=Price%3A%20Low%20to%20High&dir=asc)
Cheers!

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Hi Maurizio, sorry for the delay in replying, ill health and Christmas got in the way. We will of course utilize community radio to publicise and to some degree deliver our Phonics by Phone course. The interactive network that will ensue from registering on our .mobi site will ensure that the word spreads through the community of users. Your information on the cost of no WAP phones in Kenya is interesting. Our pricing and availability information comes from our sample group of community teachers in Ghana, currently enrolled on the UTDBE (Unqualified Teacher Training Diploma in Basic Education) course who will be our initial target group as we roll out and refine our course. Half of these teachers receive no salary and yet most manage to own and use a simple older generation feature phone. I guess it comes down to priorities!

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Photo of David Citrin
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Interesting idea, Phonics by Phone! An impressive collaborative initiative, I look forward to seeing this idea develop. I listened to some of the phonic audio units, as well. Why this idea is so appealing to me is that it is agnostic to basic phones, which indeed as you point out is key for low and middle income countries where so many people still use older gen phones. Additionally, bringing parents and teachers together in a 'pedagogical duo' is innovative, though I do wonder - as others have asked - about the time commitments parents have been able to make to work with teachers.

Could you describe a bit more about the value-added measurement tool. I'm also wondering what monitoring and evaluation framework you have in place for assessing pre-/post-intervention, such as broad process and fidelity measures, or other outputs and qual-quant indicators for reading capacity, that might work in a range of settings? I guess I’m asking “what does success look like” from an impact stand point?

Excellent work! I look fwd to reading more.

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
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Hi David, Thanks for your encouraging comments. I will aim to answer some of your questions and leave other members of the team to respond to the assessment issues in more depth. Suffice it to say our baseline comes from the EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessments) and EGMA (Early Grade Maths Assessments) carried out in 2013 and just published. They make desperate reading for Ghana! We intend to refine and adapt our own assessment based on this but also impacted by the Save the Children IDELA tool which gives a more holistic view of a young child's development.
I love the fact that you really "get it" on the older generation basic feature phones! This is key to the delivery of our whole approach to empowering parents and teachers to understand and deliver effective early literacy. Bringing parents and teachers together is important but they do not need to be in the same physical space. Our online interactive network will mean anyone registered on our .mobi site can interact with others. Of course, many of our sample group of community volunteer teachers are already parents of young children themselves and it will be interesting to see how they use the knowledge the Phonics by Phone course provides. We hope to be able to measure qual/quant success for parents, teachers and children. Parents do not have to dedicate specific time to work with teachers but can access the course for themselves in their own time to improve their own reading skills and learn alongside their own children.
Hope this helps to answer some of your queries

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Photo of David Citrin
Team

Great, thank you Charlotte! The interactive network is a really neat idea.

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Photo of André Santos Correia
Team

Great initial research, it is true that in times of desperate need, radical new solutions should be applied. I wonder tho, if something via mobile phone will be engaging, other types of media could be added, so that communication isn't only made by sound.

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Photo of Kieran Cooke
Team

You're right that communication just by audio is not only not particularly engaging but also it has been shown that using a multi-sensory approach in teaching phonics is key. So that's why text-based materials, as well as hopefully simple animations, will be delivered to the mobile phones as well as the audio content. Teachers will also be able to access a lot more material via www.phonicsghana.net.

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Photo of Uve Kindia
Team

Good work with the research. I read throught it and like most of i read and gave me a better insight and understanding but on the other hand. Maybe educating parents aswell will be more beneficial for the long term. Overall good idea

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Photo of Kieran Cooke
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Thanks for your encouragement Uve. I absolutely agree that educating parents is key in achieving significant outcomes in this project. That's why we see it as vital that the content is delivered to parents as well as teachers. This will not only help parents engage in what their child is learning and see the importance of being able to read but also will increase the literacy level of parents themselves. If you have any experience on parental involvement and any specific ideas, we would be delighted to hear them.

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Photo of MeiLi Siaw
Team

Congrats on this project idea! I'm especially excited about how it utilises affordable non-smartphones as a delivery medium. In Malaysia, where my team and I are based and designing for, there are many low-income, immigrant and refugee communities with young children in tow who would benefit from such a tightly-packaged line of learning materials available on-the-go.

Looking forward to seeing examples of the course content that would go into the audio downloads as well as support materials. Our team is developing a framework and materials to help an existing community of low-income moms develop good parenting habits with their 0-5 children. (Link to our project here: https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/ideas/coaching-clinics-for-moms-building-upon-existing-community-playgroups )
I think there's scope for collaboration between our projects.

Look forward to hear what you think!

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Hi MeiLi, Your project looks great and we are well up for sharing our idea and good practice. Once we have done our pilot study in Ghana we will be in a better position to know how to proceed. Look forward to staying in touch.

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Team

"A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past age 5".

Once the infrastructure is in its place, it becomes feasible to create and distribute educational reading course for parents (mothers).

I am not expert, but I would think twice of adding written materials. Will it not become much harder and costlier to expand to the corners of the world?

Anyway, I hope you become very successful.

Good luck,

Robert

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

The idea is to make the written materials data lean so much of it can be accessed on the phone but there will also be a website http://phonicsghana.net/about-phonics-by-phone/ on which we will load reference materials and encourage interaction

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Photo of Christine Adu-Yeboah
Team

Teaching parents (literate or not) phonics by phone to help their children to read at home is a laudable idea. For parents (middle/low-income) who have the time (and means) to do this, it's a great way to give children the foundation at home before they start formal schooling.
I can imagine how excited parents will be to know that their phones can teach them how to read, in the first place. It will also be exciting for parents to know that as 'unprofessional teachers', they can employ the same strategies that are available to professional teachers for teaching reading.
From my experience of working with some Ghanaian basic school teachers, their challenges with teaching and learning phonics is evident. However, sometimes, it is embarrassing for teachers to admit or reveal that they can't teach phonics. Learning and teaching phonics independently and interactively in the comfort of one's home (or wherever) will save the teacher a lot of struggle and embarrassment.
I hope the many Ghanaian languages will be catered for in this, and that there will be a way to track those who will use this facility, for the sake of coaching and mentoring. I can't wait to see how it goes!

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
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What wonderful words of wisdom Christine! I absolutely agree that empowering parents to learn the basics of phonics and enabling them to teach their children to read in the comfort of their home may prove even more effective than a teacher with insecure skill trying to impart the knowledge to a large class. Of course we want teachers to feel confident and secure in their knowledge of the phonic approach to reading, but so great is the need that we must come at it from every angle. Delivering the course to mobile phones in clearly defined manageable units could have enormous impact across the developing world. We look forward to working with the teacher training colleges to embed this approach.

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

I should also add that our bi-lingual approach will cater for instruction and the development of comprehension using the child's mother tongue (L1) as well as English. By simply re-recording units, a range of native languages can be incorporated in our course.

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Team

Great point, Charlotte: "So great is the need that we must come at it from every angle." It's exciting that you're approaching this holistically from every mentorship relationship in a child's life. They only spend so many hours in school - not to mention it is tremendously empowering for parents to be able to teach their children a new skill. I work with adults in the U.S., many of whom have children with better language and literacy skills than them, and see that as they learn these skills they become more and more confident. Great work, and I'm excited to see how this project continues to develop!

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Thank you for your encouragement Meghan. We think we are on to a winner but are sure there will be many challenges along the way. We have recently heard about a Director of Education in a developing country who was so concerned by recent poor exam results (due to children not being able to read), that he decided to get all his teachers to focus on teaching phonics. Whilst we are delighted that he and other people are waking up to the cause and possible solution of poor comprehension and reading, progress is hugely hampered by a lack of access to good teaching materials about phonics for teaching reading. There is a real urgency about developing this idea in a professional holistic manner before wrong information is disseminated too widely.

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Photo of kofi essien
Team

Well said Kieran.

You got it spot on. As an organization also working on early grade literacy in Ghana, we have always believed that in a country with so many languages (and their accompanying varying dialects) spoken emphasis should be on teaching what we have come to label 'the Universal Language' which is phonics. Once the child can identify and sound letters correctly and is able to combine them and pronounce the resultant word that is a great step forward in his/her reading carrier. He/She would be able to gradually read any text that is based on the English alphabet and can later deal with intonations and meanings of these words.

I like the idea of providing support in the form of eCoaching as well as face to face interactions to the family and teachers to help pupils learn this 'Universal Language'. From experience gathered from the work that we are doing as an organization this will be very crucial in assisting especially the teacher facilitate pupils' transition from one learning level to the other, and for that matter from the L1 to the L2. This is a skill that many teachers lack.

The use of the phone is a great idea considering the current level of mobile phone penetration in the country.

I look forward to the birth of this project. There is a lot it has to offer and a lot more other players in the early grade literacy arena can learn from.

Good Luck

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

We look forward to working with you Kofi and building on the good work you are doing with OLE Ghana. Collaboration and partnerships are key to the success of the project.

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Photo of Sanjana Ramamurthy
Team

Hey Kieran!
I am impressed by the fact "A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past age 5". I have not thought that it might be connected. It is a good thing you are doing.

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Photo of Alastair McCulloch
Team

The basic ability of literacy forms fundamental building blocks toward a person's education (child or adult). The practice of systematic phonics instruction has been proven to help students learn this basic skill. I'm unable to provide a correct academic reference, but I would refer you to "Systematic Phonics Instruction Helps Students Learn to Read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s Meta-Analysis", available on-line through http://m.rer.sagepub.com/content/71/3/393.short
If the basic technology is already available in such places as Ghana, and this project is able to deliver as outlined above, then it seems to me that it is (to coin a phrase) a no-brainer.
All I can add, is good luck to all involved. There will, no doubt, be difficulties to be overcome, but I am certain that dedication, skill sets, and belief in this project will deliver a better, more informed future for those that currently have no such prospects.

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Photo of Sheena Campbell
Team

From the perspective of schools and communities in Ghana, this project has the potential to interrupt a self perpetuating cycle which contributes to children leaving school unable to read. The cycle involves teachers and pupils as well as parents and their children. As has already been described, many schools particularly in rural and remote areas of Ghana, rely on the services of voluntary teachers (Senior High School graduates – at best – from the community) because attracting trained teachers to these areas has proven very difficult. Furthermore, teacher training at the Diploma level does not include specific guidance during that training in order to equip them with the skills to teach children in the Early Grades (P1 to P3). Reading is taught by memorisation, the teacher reads the children repeat. Some pupils are able to memorise the words so that if they meet them again they can remember and read them. Many pupils simply memorise the text, so that if they are asked to read it, they simply repeat what they have memorised in class; as one teacher remarked to me: “in this way, the children will see the word “ship” but say “boat” – they have learned the story, not how to recognise the sounds and the words”. What this means is that those pupils who manage to pass through the education system and themselves become teachers (or volunteer teachers) revert to this same mode of instruction, and so the cycle is constantly reproduced.

Research carried out by Helen Abadzi (Abadzi, H. (2006) Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience, World Bank), indicates that people trained in a context that is too dissimilar to that in which they will have to apply the training, generally find it difficult to do so and will revert to familiar or comfortable methods – with regard to teachers, this results in teachers teaching the way they were taught. The fact that the phonics by phone teaching guides will be tried and tested in the context in which teachers will be expected to use them, and that the teachers will be able to follow carefully structured and scripted ideas at the pace and in the way that suits them, means that this training will not resemble so many others where teachers are presented with an “ideal” scenario, that is extremely difficult to support in poorly resourced schools.

With regard to community members and parents in particular, the project has two major advantages. The stated one is that parents will have the means to support children in the acquisition of skills required to become readers. Furthermore, they will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be literate. What “learning” really looks like. Many members of rural and remote communities I have interviewed over the last 4 years in Ghana are committed to the aim of educating their children, committed to supporting their community school (in many cases to the extent of supporting volunteer teachers with accommodation, food, money, etc), and committed to supporting in the management of the school. But when asked how they are able to ensure that their children are being taught well, they feel unqualified to judge. In drawing conclusions about the quality of teaching and learning in their community schools, they rely on observing if the teachers turn up and are in class. They look into their children’s books for ticks and good marks. Parents with a deeper understanding of how children learn to read, of how they can support their children to read, will not just be able to support their own children but also the teachers and other school children in their community.

Based on this evidence, I believe that unless the cycle of children growing up to be community members who feel unqualified to “own” their children’s education, or growing up to be teachers who perpetuate the same teaching strategies that were used with them, is broken, these communities will continue to suffer from the same poor learning outcomes:
• on average fewer than 30% of pupils in rural areas achieve reading proficiency in National Education Assessment tests at P6 (NEA results 2013, GES, MoE))
• English pass rates for BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) vary, and are especially low for those in the most deprived regions – 43.8% pass rate in the Northern Region, 39.6% pass rate in the Upper East Region and 47.7% in the Upper West Region – as compared to the national average of 59% and the pass rate in the country’s capital – Greater Accra at 82.3% (BECE results for 2011/2012, EMIS database, GES, MoE)).

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Photo of Leanne Long
Team

A great idea to tackle such an important issue. Go for it!

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Photo of Charlotte Cashman
Team

Thanks for your encouragement Leanne. we think it has real potential!

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Photo of Mike Cashman
Team

Good to see all the support that this great idea is getting

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Kieran!

Thanks for sharing this interesting idea! It looks like you have carefully considered how this could work and I'm sure that many of us would be interested to know how your pilot goes. I see that you are focused on teachers - have you thought about the role that parents might play in a program like this? What ages are the children that would be the beneficiaries of a project like this?

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Photo of Michael Stark
Team

Hi Chioma

I have worked with Kieran on this project and will respond for us both.

The age that a child learns to read is the age the child first hears sounds, and connects them with objects ("mama" )and ideas ("happy"). So, from age zero to five.

All the research shows that if children are talked to, a lot, every day, from birth (indeed in the womb) to age five, they grow up healthier and happier, and learn language and reading and literacy faster..

Who is mainly looking after children from zero to 5? Parents and family. By the age of 3, 4, 5, perhaps the child is also attending kindergarten classes, so by then teachers are coming into the frame too.

So Kieran and I are absolutely clear - this project does massively focus on parents and not just on teachers. There are at least fifty times more parents involved, and each of them has contact with their child for far more hours than the teacher!

Please read the proposal carefully - in almost every sentence Kieran is emphasising parents as well as teachers. We want parents too to have access to these lessons in phonics by mobile phone.

In developed countries the majority of children have by the age of 5 acquired pre-reading skills that make the job of actually reading massively easier. Reading itself may happen formally in early years (pre-5 is the age for many children) or early primary (5 or 6 or later) .

What is completely unacceptable is that children should be carefully parented, and attend caring schools for several years, and yet still don't learn to read well. That is a waste of human potential on a huge scale. It arises because between them, the parents and the teachers were not themselves well enough informed about how young children can best learn to read and write.

So, who are the beneficiaries of this project? Quite simply, every child aged zero to 5 - and in addition, every child from 5 up to say 9. By the age of 9 they should ALL be able to read, if their parents - and later their teachers - have helped to the maximum extent!

And so the answers to your questions are: yes we've thought about the role of parents; yes they are crucial, yes teachers are crucial too; and yes, all children from age zero can be the beneficiaries.

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Photo of Jonathan Adabre
Team

This is a good piece of news. I have been struggling, as a civil society person who has dealt with girls education in rural communities in northern Ghana for a long time, to find ways by which pupils could be taught reading in a better way and this comes as the solution to that struggle. Kudos. I applaud the effort

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Photo of Katherine van Wyk
Team

This idea is really innovative and takes advantage of the current and future technical landscape. Mobile presents a powerful opportunity to address the lack of quality educational resources and access to these by under-resourced teachers. Mobile penetration in Ghana is over 100% and nearly a quarter of the population already has access to broadband speed internet via their phones. The GSMA's latest Digital Inclusion Report estimates that by 2020 3 billion people worldwide will be online via their phones, and that 50% of these users will come from developing nations.

Using the mobile web, in parallel with other traditional channels like radio and SMS, means that the user experience and real value in terms of content and services, can be far more rich and interactive.
When carefully designed and developed to meet local needs, "digital communities" can be formed to provide real, long term support to large numbers of teachers, listen to their needs, as well as track long term impact.

Phonics by Phone, as a concept, is only a matter of time - its need is evident and the route to achieving it is clear. The team has made significant progress already. This is an idea that can be taken to scale and achieve great impact!

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Photo of wekesa zab
Team

Halo Kieran,
I am interested in collaboration on this .....approach on audio..

Kindly check out -
http://elimika.ac.ke/index.php/2011-07-08-10-03-37/primary-teacher-course


Elimika online primary teacher course...

This is exciting , thanks for the share ..

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Photo of ABIGAIL JAGO
Team

Phonics by Phone mitigates many of the challenges faced by current teacher training and literacy programmes. The fact the technology can be used with older model phones is key and incentivising engagement with air time credit is a great idea.

I am especially excited about the prospect of enabling parents to become more involved with their childrens learning. Preparing their child for reading and practising reading at home can make a real difference to a childs development.

Fantatsic idea!

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Photo of Eloise Awure-Nsoh
Team

Very much looking forward to seeing this implemented as my experience in Ghana has shown that a simple phonics programme can make a huge difference, as has been commented on already. I'm so impressed that it's making use of readily available and regularly used technology which we have already had experience of enriching our programme here in Ghana.

Looking forward to seeing positive impact soon!

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Photo of Katie Coles
Team

This sounds like a really exciting idea, as well as something that would be feasible to implement in. From my experience of working in kindergartens in Ghana, schools tend to be extremely resource poor whilst many of the phonics programmes already out there are very resource heavy, thus making them out of reach for the vast majority. This idea can solve this problem- a problem that clearly needs to be solved.

From the early stages of implementing a phonics programme in kindergartens in Ghana the results have been amazing. The P1 teachers are singing the praises of the KG teachers about how well their students can read and write- and in fact the teachers believe they are already achieving more than any of their past students ever have.

This idea has the potential to positively impact hundreds of thousands of children- a very exciting thought!

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Photo of Nick Parish
Team

One of the greatest strengths of this idea is that it has been designed to fit into existing systems and social norms. By this, I mean that everyone in Ghana has a mobile phone, and my personal experience of the country is that everyone knows how to use one! Furthermore, it is perfectly acceptable to answer and refer to one’s phone at any time of the day.

That, in addition to the critical importance of learning to read at a young age and the part that plays in educational outcomes for the rest of a child’s school years and beyond, make this both a viable and hugely important possibility.

Our experience of implementing a phonetically regular reading programme in kindergartens in Ghana has demonstrated encouraging results so far. Teachers using the programme have told us that in all their years as a kindergarten teacher, they have never seen such quick progress when it comes to their pupils learning to read and write. We are impacting thousands of children with the phonics programme, but the idea being discussed above is aiming to use very similar content to affect hundreds of thousands, because of the mobile phone technology element.

It is a step forward, and based on my experience working in Ghana for many years, an objective that I believe is achievable.

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This report in the Guardian 29 Jan 2014 makes depressing reading.

One in four young people in developing countries are unable to read a sentence, according to a report, which warns that poor quality education has left a "legacy of illiteracy" more widespread than previously believed.
Research published on Wednesday by Unesco, the UN's educational, scientific and cultural body, suggests that 175 million young people lack even basic literacy skills.
"Access [to education] is not the only crisis – poor quality is holding back learning even for those who make it to school," said Unesco director-general, Irina Bokova, in a foreword to the 11th annual Education for All global monitoring report, which measures progress towards global goals.
An estimated 250 million children are not learning basic reading and maths skills, according to the report, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. This "global learning crisis" costs developing countries billions of dollars a year in wasted education funding, it warns.

How much longer are we going to tolerate this "legacy of illiteracy"?

This "Phonics by Phone" idea could reverse the trend by equipping parents and teachers with the skills they need to teach reading well.