Strong reading skills can set young people up for success — in school and for life. Dr. Shahzad Mithani shares strategies for engaging stakeholders in improving students’ skills and developing a reading culture.

Shahzad S. Mithani is the chief of party for the Kyrgyz Republic USAID: Quality Reading Program – Time to Read, which aims to improve the core reading skills of students in the first through fourth grades in 900 schools across the country.

The long-term success of the Kyrgyz Republic’s educational system cannot depend on donor investment. How do you build partnerships at all levels of government to ensure progress continues?

The Kyrgyz Republic’s current education and development strategy highlights strategic cooperation between donors and the government, leveraging investments of both, to strengthen the country’s educational system and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2013, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Education and Science signed a memorandum of understanding with USAID to improve reading levels of primary grade students across the country. Through this memorandum, the Kyrgyz Republic USAID: Quality Reading Program – Time to Read has committed to building partnerships with the Kyrgyz government at all levels to boost early grade reading.

Time to Read designs reading strategy training packages and provides in-service training for educators and education stakeholders in reading instruction. In the future, we envision the creation of professional learning communities among educators to further enable sharing of innovative approaches to teach reading. We’ve also developed a development reading ladder tool to level story books and build capacity of children’s book authors and illustrators, teachers, librarians, and other educators to apply the tool, ensuring that supplementary reading materials are grade- and age-appropriate.

The ministry has already instructed the Kyrgyz Education Academy, the Republican Institute for Advanced Training and Retraining, and pre-service pedagogical institutes to use and apply methodological approaches and techniques that Time to Read has introduced for the preparation and development of teachers. Thus, we’re actively building partnerships with training institutions at all levels — national, provincial, district, and school — to ensure that stakeholders have the tools they need to apply these approaches and sustain positive results. In addition, the project will hand over the electronic leveled reading tool and all reading instruction training modules to the Ministry of Education and Science before the project ends so that their use can continue.

Ensuring access to quality educational materials is critical to the success of young people. How do you define “quality?”

Absolutely, a key factor in reading development is the availability of books and other reading materials that offer just the right level of support and challenge. When books are matched with the readers’ interest and level, a young reader can continue his or her progress in becoming an accomplished reader. Removing the “one size fits all” approach to reading and giving each child the opportunity to develop essential skills at his or her own pace is the key quality indicator for supplementary reading materials. Time to Read’s leveled reading tool, for example, comprises a set of criteria for language, content, and design. The topic should be appropriate for the reader’s age and grade level. Illustrations and visuals should be relevant to the text and age-appropriate. All these define the quality.

How do you engage parents in the success of an educational system?

We know that a child forms his or her readings skills during the primary grades, and those skills are critical to that child’s success in school and in life, generally. Encouraging parents to read books with their children is the most effective way to support early development of children’s reading skills. For this reason, modern curricula suggest that schools establish strong partnerships with parents.

Across Kyrgyzstan, people widely acknowledge the importance of parental engagement. Traditionally, this engagement takes place through parent associations and regular gatherings where parents, teachers, and administrators discuss student performance and school-life issues. Parents also engage in extracurricular activities with their children, such as World Book Day celebrations, theatrical and musical performances, and quiz bowls.

Because teachers often lack time and practical tools to boost parental engagement at home, Time to Read has developed a module on parent and community engagement and has conducted trainings for teachers, school principals, deputy principals, and librarians. The module provides tools to involve local authorities, parents, libraries, and other partners in boosting early grade reading skills. In addition, it outlines school-based reading activities in which parents and communities can also participate. Most importantly, the guide includes lessons that parents can use at home with their children. Parents have already expressed high interest in having such practical exercises for family reading activities.

Posts on the Chemonics blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics.