On Carolyn Johnson’s second visit to the central highlands of Guatemala, she met a first-grade teacher who made a shocking confession. Before taking part in the Guatemala Literacy Project, the teacher was convinced that her students could not learn to read.
“She said ‘We were willing to go through the program because it was a day out of class and you gave us books and you provided us with a nice lunch, but we knew that you were crazy,’ ” says Johnson, a Rotarian who helped design the curriculum for the project and now serves as a technical adviser for the Guatemala Literacy Project.
That teacher and more than a hundred of her colleagues each received several in-classroom coaching sessions over eight months. They learned how to replace rote memorization drills and repetition of words on a black-board with exercises that engage their students in critical thinking.
“She went on to tell me excitedly how 45 of her 50 students were moving on to second grade because they had learned to read,” Johnson says. “The program has made believers out of 90 percent of the teachers we have worked with. They are excited about being teachers again, and they go into their classrooms believing they can make a difference.”
After decades of investing in literacy projects, experts have realized that simply getting children into the class-room — either by removing attendance barriers or providing supplies — is not enough. Before students can succeed, the quality of the teaching in that classroom needs to improve.
Rotary projects like the Guatemala Literacy Project and Nepal Teacher Training Innovations (NTTI) in Nepal are leading the effort to advance childhood reading by empowering teachers to teach better.