Improving Literacy Instruction:
Lessons Learned from Latin America
August 25, 2011 — 11:30 a.m.
||Roger Rasnake, JBS International, Inc.
Kevin Roberts, USAID/Dominican Republic
Mirka Tvaruzkova, JBS International, Inc.
||Barbara Knox-Seith, USAID Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean
This session focused on lessons learned over a decade through the Centers for Excellence in Teacher Training (CETT)—a regional USAID program supporting innovation in teacher training in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The program was created to improve the pedagogical skills of teachers in the first, second, and third grades in economically disadvantaged communities in the region. Concepts and techniques used in the program were based on research in international best practices in teacher training and literacy instruction. Barbara Knox-Seith highlighted some of the key outcomes of the program: 35,095 teachers and administrators were trained in interactive methods of literacy instruction, and the program reached over 799,000 students in twenty-one countries. Teachers made significant changes in their performance in the classroom by adopting new teaching techniques. Student reading test scores over the course of the school year improved significantly. CETT was able to achieve its objectives through strong partnerships with the program’s local implementers.
A series of white papers was created to document the lessons learned in over nine years of program implementation. The papers addressed key topics such as fostering a paradigm shift around literacy, and the challenges of measuring learning, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness in a regional initiative. In terms of fostering a paradigm shift around literacy, some of the key lessons learned were: (a) all stakeholders noted an immense change in their perception of the importance of teaching reading and writing in early grades; (b) teachers, principals, and parents gained a new understanding of the importance of their role in helping students learn to read and write; (c) CETT staff, trainers, and teachers noted the importance of principals’ support in effecting change; (d) implementing institutions sustained CETT operations by becoming experts in teacher training and literacy; and (e) the CETTs had an important influence on how key stakeholders understand the importance of early grade reading and a “culture of literacy.”
As a regional program, one of the challenges the program faced was getting multiple countries to work in unison. While program design took only one year, facilitating consensus and harmony among countries took from three to four years. CETT established three hubs which served as the headquarters for each sub-region: Central America and the Dominican Republic (CETT CA-RD) housed in Honduras, the Caribbean (C-CETT) located in Jamaica, and the Andes (CETT Andino) centered in Peru. Even though the program had many components, the countries learned to work well together. CETT faced challenges related to the variations in implementation and the ability of regional assessment efforts to accommodate differences between individual country cultures and education systems. Though the CETTs did not initially see the need to test students, standardized tests were ultimately created. The sustainability of the program was based on four factors. Political sustainability was ensured when implementing partners’ strong relationship with ministries of education (MOEs) made it possible to withstand political turnovers and maintain relationships across the political spectrum. Financial sustainability was ensured when public-private partnerships created benefits for both partners in the program. Institutional sustainability was ensured when implementing institutions sustained CETT operations by becoming experts in teacher training and literacy. Social sustainability was ensured when CETT had an important influence on how key stakeholders understand the importance of early grade reading.
Kevin Roberts from USAID/Dominican Republic (DR) added a field perspective as he spoke about the experience of being part of CETT from the DR’s point of view. The Dominican Republic is considered one of the most successful countries of the program since CETT became a national initiative. An extensive discussion took place following the formal presentations with contributions from a number of Mission staff from other CETT countries sharing their experiences and answering questions from the audience.
Key take away points The Centers for Excellence in Teacher Training (CETT) were created to improve pedagogical skills of teachers in the first, second, and third grades in economically disadvantaged communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although there were some challenges, the CETTs enjoyed many successes: (a) reading test scores improved, (b) teachers adopted new teaching techniques and made significant changes in their classroom performance, (c) 35,095 teachers and administrators were trained in interactive methods of literacy instruction, and (d) the program reached over 799,000 students in twenty-one countries.