“When I was assigned to facilitate the pilot literacy programs in Wilgamuwa, I was little uneasy,” says Uppal Nandasiri, a senior teacher who has joined Room to Read’s Reading and Writing Instruction program in Sri Lanka as a field facilitator. “Literacy is a complex issue.”
When the program began, says Mr. Nandasiri, “less than 50 percent of children passed their O levels and about 22 percent failed in Sinhalese, which is their mother tongue.”
Reading and Writing Instruction in Sri Lanka began with a pilot group of 21 schools in Wilgamuwa. “The program made children think and use their imaginations,” says Mr. Nandasiri. “The previous curriculum was monotonous for young children who naturally have a short attention span.”
A short distance away, a group of primary school children sit very animatedly under the shade of a tree with their teacher, engrossed in the current lesson. One girl hops around like a rabbit using her fingers as ears. Another boy is down on all fours, roaring loudly. The rest of the class and the teacher split into laughter.
“We are acting out a lesson and each child is playing the part of an animal,” says the teacher, Sanjivini Jayathunga. With a giggle, eight-year-old Indica shares her part: “I am a puppy because I love dogs.” Her laughter, she says, was prompted by her “scene partner”, Raja, who forgot he was supposed to be a bear, roaring like a lion instead.
Sanjivini has been teaching for five years now and says the new methodology our program has taught her is much more engaging. “This is definitely is an easier way to get your students to learn and respond to the lesson.”
And it’s not just fun that makes the program worthwhile, she says. “Before we started this program, many of my students read with great difficulty...now almost every child here is an independent reader.” As if to prove her point, the teacher invites our team to call on any student in the class and have him or her read a passage. Sarath, an eager student whose hand went up immediately, does the honors.
He starts reading from a book called ‘Kuru Kuraga’ (Rumbling Tummy) his little finger tracing each word slowly. The class is all ears and the teacher’s smile reflects her pride. As the story draws to a close, Sarath shares his view of the story’s moral, proving that his comprehension skills are on par with his reading.
“Standard school curriculums are usually a ‘one-fit-for-all’ module, and don’t take into consideration the difference in rural and urban schools” explains Mr. Nandasiri. “But this module is tuned to the needs of the children, and is supported by the storybooks, teaching aids and workbooks that are provided.”
Indica’s mother Sita, who has come to collect her from school, couldn’t agree more. “I am proud of Indica’s reading skills,” she says. “She is enjoying school like never before and I am very happy that the school is using methods that the children seem to enjoy.”
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