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International Rescue Committee’s Pakistan Reading Project Wins 2020 International Prize from the Library of Congress

  • Program designed to improve the reading skills of children in grades one through two reached more than 1.7 million students and trained more than 27,000 teachers.
  • Through strong partnerships with the government of Pakistan, the program improved 55 policies for reading within the country.
  • The program received the top international prize awarded by the Library of Congress for promoting literacy.

The International Rescue Committee's (IRC) Pakistan Reading Project (PRP) has been awarded the 2020 International Prize of the Library of Congress’ Literacy Awards Program. Funded by USAID and designed to support regional and provincial education departments to improve the reading skills of public school children in grades one and two throughout Pakistan, the program reached more than 1.7 million students and trained more than 27,000 teachers. Starting in 2013, the project worked within 69 districts with a focus on improving classroom learning environments, enacting policy reform, and increasing community-based support for reading. 

Prior to the project, many studies showed dismal results in the education sector in Pakistan, particularly in the early grades. According to the 2013 Annual Status of Education Report, 49% of grade 3 children could not read sentences in their language of school instruction; and 45% of grade 5 children could not read a grade 2 story in the language of school instruction. PRP interventions increased students’ reading abilities in local languages to the equivalent of an additional half year of academic learning. In addition, PRP produced positive changes in teachers’ classroom practices and competencies in supporting the development of reading skills.

Working in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan, PRP provided support to provincial and regional governments to develop and adopt reading improvement strategies into their own education policies, resulting in 55 policy changes across regions during the life of the project. PRP also addressed the gendered differences in learning how to read in Pakistan by driving toward parity in the number of teachers trained and students reached, increasing gender representation in provincial government committees, and strengthening female representation (women in transformative and leadership roles) in revised textbooks from 24% to 47%.

“Learning to read at an early age is critical for future educational achievement, economic well being, and an overall improved quality of life,” said Dr. Naeem Sohail Butt, chief of party for the Pakistan Reading Project.“By addressing system-wide barriers such as untrained teachers, low student reading levels, a lack of reading materials, an absence of reading-related government policies, and a dearth of community support, we were able to bring forward interventions that not only work, but will have a lasting impact for children, teachers, and communities for years to come.”

Taking into account cost effectiveness, PRP also determined methods that delivered the best return on investment--a critical accomplishment in settings where funding is often limited. By generating evidence on which solutions yielded the best value for money spent, PRP showed that it is possible to improve reading outcomes for children in a fragile setting at a low cost. All in all, more than 7.3 million reading materials were provided to teachers and students, more than 15,000 classroom libraries were established, and almost 27,000 tablets with teaching aides were provided. As governments, educators and caregivers--across all contexts around the world--look for solutions to continue children’s learning during COVID-19, PRP also offers a guide to innovative digital programming at scale.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.