Context: In February 2018, Belize’s Ministry of Education (MoE) declared literacy as a national priority. This is appropriate since, according to the 2011 Literacy Report, more than half of the children in primary schools in the Belize District did not have the basic literacy skills appropriate for their age-grade levels.
Numerous studies point to a link between literacy, employment and poverty with individuals who have poor literacy skills having trouble integrating into the formal economy, perpetuating the poverty cycle, and reinforcing social exclusion and contributing to increased violence in marginalized communities.
The CALS Programme: In response to the Literacy Report, The Academy of Reading/Academy of Math Computer Assisted Learning Software (CALS) was introduced into schools and community centers in socially vulnerable neighborhoods in 2012. It was a Literacy Without Borders initiative in collaboration with RESTORE Belize, the Literacy Unit of MoE and the Literacy Without Borders (LWB) initiative based in Alberta, Canada with generous funding from the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the UNICEF Fund.
The software helps students master a series of fundamental skills to improve their reading and math capabilities. Students are pre-tested before being placed into a grade level. The software then creates an individualized programme for each student, designed to help them realize fast, permanent gains in core reading and mathematical skills. It is not intended to replace traditional classroom instruction but rather is used as a remedial tool to complement ongoing training. The software most benefits reading-delayed learners, at-risk readers, and young learners who need to develop and improve reading acquisition skills.
In 2018 the software was discontinued, but existing licenses continue to function, and sites are still supported by RESTORE Belize. The strategy for supporting CALS in Belize is under revision, and new software is being procured.
Sites: CALS is operating in the following 20 sites across the country, and RESTORE Belize is currently supporting 16 of them:
To see an example of how CALS works in the classroom, take a look at our feature of Maud William’s programme which teachers say has had impressive results.
Other Literacy Initiatives: In addition to CALS, RESTORE Belize partners with MoE in the Early Warning System for At-Risk Primary School Children (EWS) Programme which aims to prevent students who are struggling in school from dropping out and engaging in anti-social behaviours. More information on that programme can be accessed here.