Creating and Preserving Stories in Honduran Communities
Achieving universal literacy is one of the international community’s most engaging and admirable aspirations. Although the educational and social context in Honduras presents challenges, the local community has invested considerable time and effort in successfully improving education quality for their children.
AIR implemented the USAID-funded Teacher Citizen Participation Project (2011-2018)—known as Proyecto EducAcción. This project aimed to improve child literacy rates through strengthened community participation in education, teacher professional development, and increased access to reading materials. Student performance data show that on average, the 155 municipalities where Proyecto EducAcción worked showed greater improvement in primary school student achievement in reading than in municipalities where the project did not work.
One of Proyecto EducAcción’s most notable achievements was to work with Honduran students to author and illustrate bilingual stories in Spanish and indigenous languages and compile these stories into books that were widely disseminated in the students’ communities. These books have been well-received in Honduras because they provide communities with increased access to reading materials, particularly in local languages.
Although seven percent of the Honduran population is of indigenous or Afro-Honduran origin, the majority of schools teach students to read and write in Spanish. Schools that teach their students in the local language face many challenges. There is a need to improve teachers’ own reading and writing skills in either the local language or Spanish, provide them with training on best practices for teaching early grade reading, and strengthen the system of support to transition students from a local language to Spanish. One of the biggest challenges is a lack of print materials to support literacy development in local languages.
Despite overwhelming evidence that high-quality and age-appropriate supplementary reading materials in the classroom are a major factor in developing strong readers, a survey of 143 classrooms showed that only 36% not only had, but also used supplementary reading materials. There are few data on reading practices, but they indicate that most Honduran students also have limited access to books at home. In addition, few publishers and bookstores sell children’s books, and if they do, only a few are authored by Hondurans and contain contextually and culturally relevant content. The lack of exposure to varied and interesting reading materials is a barrier to children’s literacy development. Children respond most positively to reading materials that they can relate to based on their lived experiences.
Developing Local Stories
To address this issue, the technical team at AIR Honduras worked with local Honduran school children to design, illustrate, and publish local language books. The goal was to create books that are culturally and contextually relevant to children’s lives and enable them to understand the world through their daily life at home, in the community and at school. AIR conducted workshops to train Honduran teachers, writers, and other volunteers to edit and appraise the books to ensure they were grade appropriate. Project staff also built teachers’ capacity to use the books to improve children’s reading skills. Indigenous leaders and elders from five Honduran indigenous peoples—the Lenca, Garífuna, Tolupán, Miskito, and Pesh—supported this effort. Some prominent Honduran writers also participated in this effort, and their children’s stories are included in the book collection.
This collaboration yielded 44 different titles, 10 of which are bilingual and are being used in classrooms by children aged 6 to 12 years old. Approximately 350,000 locally developed books were distributed to Honduran schools.