I was so pleased to celebrate International Literacy Day and the launch of Liberia’s National Reading Campaign at the Gray D. Allison School in Monrovia on September 6. While International Literacy Day only happens once a year, our collective efforts to ensure that every child and young person has the opportunity to learn to read requires the ongoing commitment and action of all education stakeholders, be they Ministry of Education officials, donors, teachers, parents or the students themselves. That is why I commend the Ministry of Education for launching the National Reading Campaign and introducing a National Reading Week on September 8, International Literacy Day. It is my hope that during National Reading Week and throughout the two-year National Reading Campaign and beyond, individuals and communities across Liberia will join us in fostering a culture of reading across all levels of society, regardless of age and educational background.
Globally, more than 700 million adults are unable to read these words, and two-thirds of them are women. In Liberia the literacy rate is only 59.4% for individuals aged 15 years and older . As President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated at the launch, improving the literacy of the young people in the country is an urgent matter that requires immediate attention. It is our goal to continue working with the Government of Liberia to combat illiteracy and poor reading outcomes by strengthening teaching techniques, providing reading materials, developing curricula and conducting assessments that measure impact of reading interventions.
Reading is the foundation for all future learning, and yet, many students in Liberia are not mastering this critical and basic skill. Students across the grades are failing tests not necessarily because they do not know the answer but because they cannot read the question. Research on student reading performance indicate that in order for children to read with comprehension, they should be reading, at the very minimum, 45-60 words per minute, or about one word per second. However, here in Liberia, second and third graders on average read about 10-20 words per minute. Improving student reading skills is a priority for USAID’s investment in Liberia and we know that we will have to fortify our efforts to see continued improvements in reading among Liberia’s children and youth.
One of the slogans of the National Reading Campaign is “learn to read, read to learn.” Early grade reading competency is critical for children’s continued retention and success in future grades. As President Sirleaf has stated, it is now time for all Liberians to tackle the issue of quality education; we need to ensure children are not only attending school but are being equipped with strong reading skills that will enable them to become successful students and lifelong learners.
In Liberia, we are not just focused on reading in the early grades, our efforts also reach youth who have either dropped out or never attended primary school. These alternative basic education programs support learners in literacy, numeracy, work readiness, and life skills. The dedication we have seen from these learners far surpassed our expectations. Young men and women attend night classes for three and a half hours, three nights a week while they maintain internships, provide food for their families and still somehow have time to participate in youth groups and mentorships. Their drive and determination is a great example of the Liberian spirit and shows their commitment to improving their lives through education. By learning to read themselves, women in particular will raise healthier families and will be equipped to advocate for their children’s education.
When young people become literate, they are better prepared to secure jobs that provide sustainable, fulfilling livelihoods. When a child learns to read, it fosters creativity and imagination and unlocks her potential to succeed in other key subjects, including math, science, English and history. Providing education and foundational skills at an early age has the potential to generate significant economic growth and stability for Liberia. But it does not stop at the early grades nor does it stop with students and teachers. Liberia’s leaders and policy makers have also committed to improving education at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary. The Embassy and I are committed to working with the Liberian government to increase equitable educational access and to improve education quality. Building a child-friendly educational system that extends the opportunity to learn to every student is not easy, but with the steadfast commitment of all Liberians and Liberia’s partners, we will see this goal become a reality.
I encourage each of us to take time to reflect on how “reading brightens your life” and how as individuals we can help contribute and support a culture of reading in Liberia. Whether it is through taking time to read with your family or volunteering to read at a local school or community center; supporting local authors and illustrators; assisting with your community or local school’s participation in reading and writing competitions; donating books and learning materials or organizing book fairs and book swaps, we can all play a role in igniting a passion for reading and lifelong learning.