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Literacy rates expected to leap with 'ARROW'

HIGH school principals whose institutions are part of the Government's Literacy, Education, Acceleration Programme (LEAP) say one of the greatest challenges is that many students matriculating from primary schools are reading far below acceptable levels for secondary education.

This article was published in the Jamaica Observer on May 04 2023. It can also be read on their website:

(From left) Fayval Williams, minister of education and youth; Christopher Bonterre, director, ARROW Foundation; Kasan Troupe, acting chief education officer; and Marianne Van Steen, European Union Ambassador to Jamaica, share a light moment at the launch of LEAP at Holy Trinity High School on Tuesday.

The LEAP aims to improve students' learning with the help of a special computer software called ARROW. ARROW is on trial in six high schools — Haile Selassie High, Norman Manley High, Kingston High, Holy Trinity High, Spot Valley High, and Grange Hill High — located in zones of special operations (ZOSO) across the island.

Trevine Donaldson Lawrence, principal of Grange Hill High in Westmoreland, told the Jamaica Observer at Tuesday's launch of LEAP that roughly 60 per cent of the students, or close to 100 of them who come in every year, cannot read well.

"What we have been doing as a school is to go out to some of our feeder schools and have the conversations with the principals there. We are trying to build a relationship with our feeder schools and to see what kind of support we can lend to them as well, to take them up to the other level. I see where based on the testimonials from the people who would have interacted with the software, we recognised that it is ideal for our students because it is interactive," Lawrence said.

Roncel Brooks, principal of the Norman Manley High School in St Andrew, further told Observer that not knowing how to read has an influence on the island's crime rate. "Not being able to read can be a part of the crime problem but it is not the only problem. In addition to literacy, there is also the social side and many people underestimate it. Literacy is certainly contributing to the challenges we face. When young people find themselves in certain situations, they are unable to reason and make smart decisions.

"Literacy has always been a challenge especially in our high schools. What the schools have been doing is implement different interventions to ensure we can move the standards of literacy at least up to their grade level. At the end of the day they will be able to read and write and understand things," he explained.

Andre Hill, the national literacy coordinator in the Ministry of Education and Youth, said he is looking forward to advanced literacy outcomes at the targeted institutions as a result of them using the ARROW software. "Research has established that literacy plays a major role in sustainable development in societies by acting as the foundation for lifelong learning and as the tool for economic development of any country. Those who are literate have bargaining rights. Their knowledge and skills enable them to exercise choice and influence in local, regional and international economies and, by extension, all socio-cultural settings. That is how important it is. Literacy is the life-blood of every nation," Hill pointed out, underscoring the importance of the programme.

ARROW, an acronym for Aural, Read, Respond, Oral, Write, is a programme developed by Dr Colin Lane in the UK based on learning through self voice techniques, whilst undertaking various programmes covering reading, spelling, dictation, speech and listening skills, which produce significant results in children and adults who have learning difficulties across the spectrum as well as those who do not. Dr Lane's research has spanned almost 30 years when he first developed the multi-sensory approach.

Director of the ARROW Foundation Christopher Bonterre told the Observer that the idea behind the software is that people think in the sound of their own voice.

"Students work around their own voice. They hears text from a tutor, report it but it is played back to him in the sound of his own voice while he or she makes notes and corrections. It is a tailor-made programme for eight or 10 hours. The strength in ARROW is speed. If it takes you three months to do the required 10 hours or one hour for 10 days, the result would be the same because the amount of work they cover is the same.

"This can set them on the right path in terms of reading if there are no learning difficulties. If you have a child in secondary school, reading at a level of six, there is a lot more than the fact that they can't read. There is a self-esteem element they need to deal with, there is concentration and low motivation. Arrow is not only helping these children read and spell, but we lock them into a system where their focus to improve because learning only takes place with audio and visual.

"We give them headphones to reduce background noise because children who are struggling can't concentrate with background noise. Quite often a child who cannot read, all of a sudden the system makes him repeat a recording and he hears himself reading. It is not tricking them. Surreptitiously, it is showing them. What we need to get is their self-confidence back."

Heather Sutton, head of the EU technical assistance team, a major partner in the initiative, was excited the ARROW software is now being used.

"We have been working with the ministry and the citizen security secretariat to bring these sorts of expertise to the schools and to support these kinds of initiatives. With this programme, there are different exercises so when the student gets on the computer they will go right to their reading level and their particular areas that they need reinforcement. They would press this green arrow to play and they will hear a voice reading. They will stop, press the orange button and repeat what they heard in their own voice. You would go through each sentence and at the end, it can replay and they can hear their own voice reading the full paragraph.

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