USAID, Global Reading Network Celebrate 50 Years of International Literacy Day

USAID and the Global Reading Network (GRN) were pleased to join in the worldwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day (ILD)! On September 7 and 9, GRN hosted daylong events at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC. On September 8, USAID and the U.S. Library of Congress cosponsored an event at the Library.

GRN’s International Technical Meeting on September 7 was an invitational event revolving around the theme of “Addressing the Global Learning Crisis: Successes and Challenges of Improving Reading Outcomes.” Morning sessions included reports from representatives of the Ministries of Education of Cambodia, Kenya, Haiti and Ethiopia, spotlighting strategies they have used to support early grade reading in their respective countries. Other sessions throughout the day spotlighted data and literacy, as well as the Global Book Alliance. Small group discussions in the afternoon focused on priorities for reading moving forward: assessment, instruction, community involvement, and access and quality of books. The afternoon’s activities concluded with the presentation of an award to USAID’s Christie Vilsack by GRN’s Sakil Malik honoring her many contributions to supporting education worldwide.

The invitational event at the Library of Congress on September 8 began with a luncheon featuring a conversation between Christie Vilsack and noted children’s book author Pat Mora. Afternoon plenary sessions included a keynote address by Eric Postel of USAID, a panel discussion on “Where We Have Been and Where We Should Go in Literacy” and several sets of brief remarks. A final session spotlighted “Building a Digital Library for Early Grade Readers” and gave participants a chance to collaboratively produce a simple book using the Bloom writing software.

The day’s activities closed with a gala reception at the Library of Congress. The reception featured remarks by Charles North of USAID, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the Honorable Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, Minister for Education, Republic of Ghana (pictured at left), as well as appearances by Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Second Lady Jill Biden.

After North offered welcoming remarks, Vilsack talked about links between agriculture and education. “There is a direct connection between the ability to read and learn and the capacity to feed oneself,” Vilsack said. He also emphasized the importance of partnerships in achieving goals.

Opoku-Agyemang gave a heartfelt talk about the critical importance of literacy in Ghana and worldwide. She applauded the progress that has been made but added that we must continue to help those who cannot yet read. “Reading is so fundamental to the creation of knowledge,” she noted.

The Minister said she was happy to hear many ILD speakers talk about the importance of students’ mother tongue and called for “more strategic attention” to address this issue. She noted how challenging it is for a five-year-old to go to school knowing he will be taught in a language he doesn’t understand.

Opoku-Agyemang talked about the vital importance of providing books for children that are interesting, appropriate and written in a language that they understand. “The children must have a say in the books that are written for them,” she said. “My dream is we will publish shelves and shelves of books written for the children BY the children.” For example, students in grades 4-6 could write the stories, with students in grades K-3 providing the illustrations.

“We should involve the participants as part of the process so we are not doing it for them; we are doing it with them,” Opoku-Agyemang concluded, drawing strong applause from the audience.

Reception attendees were delighted by the attendance of Lowey and Biden. Lowey, a longtime champion of education in Congress, celebrated passage of the Education for All Act of 2016 by the House of Representatives the previous day. “We could have not gotten this far without the help of everyone here today,” she said.

Biden stated that “we need energy in the classroom; we need kids to love books.” She praised attendees for being so devoted to promoting reading and literacy, concluding, “You’re the ones making a difference.”

The September 9 activities featured a series of panel discussions revolving around the theme of “Future Directions: Innovations Tools, and Resources for Global Literacy.” Panels addressed these topics:

  • Sustainable Development Goals and Early Grade Reading,
  • Reconvening the Original Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) Panel: How Has Assessment Changed Our Work in Literacy, Preprimary and Kindergarten Assessment and Intervention
  • Innovations in SBCC Methods for Education
  • Innovations in Monitoring
  • Technology for Literacy and Disability
  • Literacy in Fragile Environments
  • Findings from the Global Book Fund Feasibility Study
  • Technology Innovations Across the Book Chain

The day’s activities closed with the announcement of the first round of Enabling Writers grants from All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development and a new Global Book Alliance/REACH for Reading call for proposals. Penelope Bender of USAID closed the meeting, saying, “I hope you will all go forth energized and recommitted to the goal that all children can learn to read and read to learn.”

Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States and Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International education, USAID, cut a cake commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Early Grade Reading Assessment
Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States (left) and Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education, USAID, celebrate the 10th anniversary of EGRA
September 09, 2016
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