`On the Wings of Words’ – promoting literacy skills in children By Esther Elijah
Guyana Chronicle
September 14, 2003

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A SURVEY of out of school youth conducted by the University of Guyana in 1995 revealed that in some villages, up to 89 per cent of the children were functioning at levels of literacy significantly below acceptable standards. The survey found that those children have difficulties reading and understanding a simple sentence connected with everyday life.

A year later, in 1996, a new literacy-training programme, `On the Wings of Words’ was launched with an aim to develop the necessary pre-reading skills needed to ensure success in early reading, help in decoding words and improving comprehension, thereby transforming reading into an enjoyable pastime.

Its introduction has led to more than 3 000 facilitators from all parts of Guyana being equipped with the power to promote pre-literary and literacy skills in children and teens ages four to 16.

From the inception of the programme the target groups have been volunteers and parents eager to help their children improve their ability to read. Multi-funded annually by several groups, namely: the Guyana Book Foundation, Bahai’ international community, British High Commission, UNICEF and the Gender Equality Programme of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) - the `Wings of Words’ programme has been an engine of change that resulted in more than 10,000 youths nationwide benefiting from improved reading skills.

Principal of School of the Nations and one of the founders of `Wings of Words’, Mrs. Pamela O’Toole in an interview with Sunday Chronicle said follow-up training sessions for the `Wings of Words’ facilitators (parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, community workers, even the Police) will be hosted at School of the Nations in Parade Street, Kingston, from October 6 to 9.

All the literacy classes that will be offered are free of cost and persons need not register but only appear on each day of training, from 16:30 hrs to 18:00hrs.

Books used in the training target - four to seven age group - and are titled: In the Garden, Down The Road, Over The Hills, Through The Forest and By The Creek.

Remedial learners, aged 10 to 16 and older, use Level One, Two and Three texts.

Parents and guardians wanting to teach their children how to improve in reading choose their own levels of training and return every quarter to complete another part of their course work. Parents have only to purchase the reading books at a minimal cost of less than G$300 each.

The `Wings of Words’ programme publishes its own manuals, readers, workbooks, and newsletters providing a comprehensive training programme for the facilitators and a successful reading programme for the children and youth. In the past year and a half, the Guyana Book Foundation, CIDA and Baha’i donors have collectively funded the programme at a cost of G$4 million.

The Canadian High Commission has also lent support to this initiative.

The training sessions conducted May 5 to 7, this year, attracted more than 275 enthusiastic teachers, parents, grandparents, and community workers.

Half of the participants had returned for higher training after completing the previous levels with their target groups. Classes were conducted at various levels in the subjects of Pre-reading, Initial Reading, Remedial Reading, and Skills Development. In the month of May, the CIDA Gender Equality programme, in collaboration with the Guyana Book Foundation, financed the workshop, which was organised by the Varqa Foundation.

Parents at a Wings of Words workshop.
O’Toole said ongoing evaluations funded by the Guyana Book Foundation are done to track the progress made in reading among children, to better improve each training session and obtain scientific data that further proves the programme works.

The larger objective is to widen the scope of the `Wings of Words’ programme by launching it in the newspaper and radio.

A whopping 98 per cent of all parents or guardians attending the literacy classes are women, according to O’Toole.

The programme is available in Regions Three and Four. Small groups conduct ongoing literacy training in Bartica and New Amsterdam.

O’Toole said at least 60 per cent of the `Wings of Words’ participants return to complete further training after enlisting in a first course. A core group of 30 individuals has repeatedly been attending sessions whenever these are conducted, year-round. Organisers of the programme encourage such groups to return to their communities and train youths who experience difficulties reading, O’Toole said.

Part of the training focuses on morals and spirituality. This includes the importance of spiritual education of children, discipline techniques, gender issues and caring communication.

During the training, the participants are also taught different methods in the teaching of reading, the role of games, songs and drama reinforcing skills learnt, the making of teaching aids and games and how to use reading manuals, readings books and workbooks effectively.