BISHKEK -- The US Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Education and Science, is implementing a project to improve reading skills and critical thinking among Kyrgyz schoolchildren.
The US and Kyrgyz governments are trying to instill love of reading in the critical first through fourth grades.
Officials are implementing the "Time to Read" project for the years 2017-2019 at a cost of almost $8 million (545 million KGS). Goals include better reading instruction, improved access to materials that support reading development and more Kyrgyz government support for reading.
The project will cover about 900 elementary schools, representing 40% of Kyrgyzstan's total. That will reach 180,000 students and more than 8,000 teachers, according to Kimberly Rosen, the mission director for USAID in Kyrgyzstan.
"The base requirements for reading in elementary school classes have already been worked out," she told Caravanserai. "They have been approved and recommended for use by the Ministry of Education and Science and by the Kyrgyz Academy of Education."
Reading with comprehension
As part of the "Time to Read" project, existing children's books will be classified by age and reading level and new books will be developed and published, Rosen said.
The project led to the creation of informational materials for teachers, parents and community representatives, and work is under way with writers, illustrators and publishers, she said.
"More than 10,000 teachers underwent special training on innovative methods for teaching reading in schools and received state certification," she said. "This initiative also assists in strengthening the practice of reading in the family using ... [outreach and awareness] campaigns."
Such projects aim to teach reading alongside comprehension, said Chinara Kurbanova, project co-ordinator from the Ministry of Education and Science.
"It is precisely thanks to these projects that our children studying in elementary school classes have improved the level of their education and our children have started to read more," she told Caravanserai, adding that school librarians, teachers and parents are all engaged to "to train children to actively read".
Building on 'Reading Together' project
The "Time to Read" project is the second stage of the USAID-funded programme.
The first part -- "Reading Together" -- was implemented in 2013-2017. It covered 1,350 schools (60% of all elementary schools in the country) with 265,000 schoolchildren, Rosen said.
"In 2012, USAID evaluated the reading skills among schoolchildren in grades 2-4 and the results showed that more than 50% of the students did not meet the national standard for reading speed," she said.
The project covered all state-run Russian- and Kyrgyz-language schools with elementary classes, she said. All public elementary schools and 80 children's libraries throughout the country received more than 400,000 copies of various books under the project.
Assessment of young readers' skills is an indispensable part of the project, according to Rosen.
For this purpose, USAID works with the Ministry of Education and Science to regularly assess students' reading levels and to discuss the results of the assessment as a way to develop the next steps of the project, she said.
An assessment in 2017 showed improvements in reading skills in the target schools, she said. For example, the figures for reading and comprehension among second-graders increased by 10%.
Rosen emphasised the work of the project for children with special needs.
"The project provided instruction for 23 teachers from two boarding schools in Osh and Bishkek for partially sighted children," she said. "These schools received technical equipment for partially sighted children and 10 children's books were translated into Braille."