Public libraries are centers for the development of literate modern citizens[ CIES 2024 Presentation]

The USDA-funded “McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program (FFE)” implemented by Mercy Corps (MC) in partnership with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and the Borlaug Institute (BI) is a five-year project that is aimed at improving the literacy of school-age children and increasing the use of health, nutrition, and dietary practices among 100,000 students in primary grades 1-4 of 416 target schools and 100 public libraries in the Kyrgyz Republic. In May 2022, the USDA McGovern-Dole program conducted an Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) in target 50 schools. According to this assessment, about 30% of surveyed schools never hold extracurricular literacy activities with parents. Sixteen percent of interviewed students reported that they never read with someone at home. To address this critical issue, the USDA McGovern-Dole program is working with public libraries that are the centers for the development of literate modern citizens. The program builds their capacity and help them host events and activities that promote student literacy and a culture of family reading. Additionally, the program supports public libraries by providing them reading materials, books developed by local authors and illustrators, and methodological guidelines. The books are age- and reading level-appropriate and include gender and inclusiveness aspects. The methodological guidelines include community engagement strategies such as collaborating with parents, teachers, and community organizations to raise awareness about the importance of reading. The guidelines also cover organizing reading events, summer reading camps, book fairs, and literary festivals to celebrate reading and literacy. The project delivered about 80,000 Kyrgyz and Russian books to 100 target public libraries. Public Libraries are centers for the development of literate modern citizens. And to strengthen the capacity of the schools and public librarians, the program conducted summer camps in 64 target schools and 100 public libraries. More than 1,700 early grade students participated in the reading summer camps. Outcomes were as follows: (a) Through engaging activities, interactive sessions, and targeted instruction, students developed important literacy skills such as phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. (b) Students developed a positive attitude towards reading since summer camps incorporate fun and interactive activities, including games, storytelling, and group discussions. These engaging elements motivated students to actively participate in reading and develop a genuine interest in exploring different books and genres. (c) Reading summer camps increased students’ motivation. Students interacted with their peers, expressed their thoughts, and shared ideas about books freely. Interactions such as these can contribute to the development of important social and emotional skills, such as empathy, communication, and teamwork. Moreover, parents participated in the reading summer camps. The camps allowed parents and children to spend quality time engaging in a shared activity. Joint reading and participation in activities strengthened the parent-child bond and fostered a positive and supportive relationship, leading to long-term benefits for the child's overall development. By joining their children in a reading summer camp, parents demonstrate their commitment to their child's education. This involvement sends a powerful message to the child that education is valued and prioritized within the family. Reading summer camps provide parents with valuable resources, information, and strategies to support their children’s reading progress. During the camps parents were equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to be effective reading advocates and partners in their children's education. Ibraimova Rada, one of the parents of a first-grade student, mentioned that after actively engaging in reading activities during summer camps, she could model good reading habits and demonstrate the importance of literacy. She learned effective strategies for supporting her son's reading development and started applying these techniques at home, which has helped to improve her son’s literacy skills. Makebaeva Meerim, another parent of third-grade student, was grateful that summer camps enrolled children from various types of families. The camp accommodated children from large families, socially vulnerable families, orphans, children without parental care, single-parent families, and children from families in socially dangerous situations. The program believes that when parents actively engage in reading activities during reading summer camps, it can inspire them to continue incorporating reading into their family's daily routines beyond the camp period. This promotes a culture of reading at home, which can have a lasting impact on the children's reading habits and academic success. To continue advocating and promoting family reading, the program held a conference with key government stakeholders. At the conference participants discussed the role of the public libraries in improving early grade students’ literacy and promoting a family reading culture. Some of the recommendations proposed to the government stakeholders were: 1. Capacity building of librarians in reading strategies to be used with children. 2. Awareness raising campaigns to promote family reading. 3. Provide public libraries with methodological guidelines to improve reading skills of the children. Other international development organizations are considering these recommendations in their approach to working with communities and educational institutions. The USDA McGovern-Dole program will continue to support public libraries to improve early grade students’ literacy development and promote family reading skills. One of the main tasks is to strengthen the partnership and close collaboration of the public and school libraries. Partnering with schools can promote literacy and provide additional resources for students. Public libraries should strive to become vibrant community centers that offer more than just books. They can host workshops, seminars, and events that cater to diverse interests and age groups. By actively engaging the community, libraries can attract new users and serve as a hub for lifelong learning and social interaction. The program will support the public libraries with ongoing capacity building activities, including involving them in virtual training for primary grade teachers. Trainings will cover various topics: reading techniques and strategies, gender equality and social inclusion (GESI), positive discipline, reading strategies and extra-curricular activities. Libraries should prioritize making their spaces and resources accessible to everyone. They must offer resources in multiple languages, cater to diverse cultural backgrounds, and provide accommodations for different learning styles.