Choosing a location
The first stage in any of our projects is choosing a location and for this we focus on two factors. The first is the literacy rate in a country. If the literacy rate is lower than average, this tells us we can have an impact. We try and prioritise areas where statistically children are least likely to learn to read. We then consider whether these countries require schools to teach English. Whilst native languages should of course be priortised over teaching English, as a UK charity our expertise are in teaching English as a foreign language. We publish dual-language books and try as far as we can to support schools in teaching children to read in their first language but by the nature of where we are, most of the books we receive are in English so for these books to be of use, we need to work with schools that teach English.
Once we’ve identified a country we want to work in, we find partners who are based in that country with local expertise and knowledge. Wherever we work, we know that local people know their own issues infinitely better than we ever will. They also know the best way to deal with those issues. We either partner with local charities or directly with schools that are lacking in resources. By working with local people, we are able to identify smaller schools in rural areas that are often overlooked by larger organisations. These schools typically don’t have qualified teachers, shelves and cupboards are empty and often some classes are taught outside because they haven’t had the funds to build enough classrooms. In these cases we can make a real and lasting impact.
Talking to teachers
So by now we’ve partnered with a local school or charity. The next stage is starting a dialogue with teachers who we’ll be working with. What will best help them engage their students? What resources do they need? What areas of their teaching do they feel most needs improving? Do their pupils have specific needs that can be addressed at school? There isn’t one best way to teach and not all schools need the same things. We ask the teachers what they need and, as far as we possibly can, we try to deliver on their requests. If a school wants a library filling with books, we’ll send books. If they want training, we deliver tailored, culturally-relevant teacher training packages. If a school wants internet access, we give them the money for a modem and pay the monthly bill. If it helps the children in these schools, we’ll do it.
As soon as we start a project, we begin to evaluate it. We regularly ask teachers, students and parents for feedback. Are the resources helpful? How could they be improved? Are you enjoying your lessons? We base our work on this continual feedback, constantly striving to improve what we do. Ultimately, we do what we do so students can receive a better education and part of this means gaining better grades. We’re aware that too much assessment is counter-productive but we carry out at least 3 yearly assessments in writing and reading so we can prove what we do is having an impact.