Literacy Around the World

Image of brightly colored Honduran children's books

September 8, 2023 is International Literacy Day. Founded to actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies, it is now celebrated around the world. Learn more about the projects, people, research, and in-country technical assistance that are contributing to the effort.

Terry Salinger

Dr. Terry Salinger: Using Research to Improve Literacy (Q&A)

How can research inform and improve literacy in the U.S. and around the world? In honor of International Literacy Day, Salinger, AIR’s chief scientist for literacy research, answered this question and more.

Illustration of Pooja Nakamura

Meet the Expert: Pooja Reddy Nakamura

Pooja Reddy Nakamura has experience overseeing a portfolio of projects on foundational learning in over 20 countries. She focuses on understanding how early literacy is acquired in complex, multilingual contexts. In this profile, Dr. Nakamura shares how governments are using evidence to improve national literacy, the benefits of multilingualism, and tactics that help sustain literacy programs.



Indian schoolchildren writing on slates

Foundational Learning Improvement Program (FLIP)

AIR's FLIP is a multi-faceted foundational literacy and numeracy intervention, supporting teachers, communities, and governments and their partners to strengthen literacy outcomes in primary school learners in low- and middle-income countries. FLIP is being implemented at scale, in close collaboration with the governments of Benin and Lesotho. Pilots were implemented in Laos and Guatemala with Catholic Relief Services.

Improving Lives Through Food for Education

The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (FFE) Program provides support to low-income, food-deficit countries around the globe to reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education, especially for girls. Since 2013, AIR has conducted over 25 evaluations of these projects around the world. More recently, AIR along with its partners has brought research evidence to practice by implementing literacy activities for the McGovern Dole FFE programs in Benin and Lesotho.

Image of schoolgirls in Haiti

USAID/Latin America and Caribbean Reads Capacity Program (LRCP)

Literacy is a fundamental skill that serves as the foundation for an individual’s future learning and, collectively, for a country’s social and economic development. The eight-year LRCP increased the impact, scale, and sustainability of early grade literacy interventions in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. The program developed state-of-the-art research, capacity strengthening resources and provided technical assistance to host country governments and other key stakeholders. To learn more about the project watch the video above.

Impacts of Inequities in Access to Language of Education on Educational Achievement: Evidence from India

Societal pressure to transition to English instruction in earlier and earlier grades in India is strong, especially given the well-documented link between English and upward socioeconomic mobility. This project aims to study the language-driven inequities in India's education system by examining whether—and to what extent—inequitable access to education in languages that primary grade children use impacts their academic performance.

Supporting National Assessments in India

India’s Ministry of Education has set out to improve literacy and numeracy nationwide, with a focus on the foundational learning skills of all primary school students. UNICEF India commissioned AIR to assist in providing various levels of technical support on two key assessments,  the National Achievement Survey and the Foundational Learning Study.

African child reading in a classroom

Supporting Multilingual Learning in Francophone Africa

To support multilingual learning, substantial research is needed considering the complex cognitive, social, cultural, economic, and political factors that affect language-learning practices and policies. The Global Partnership for Education’s Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) has commissioned AIR to generate and mobilize research to support language of instruction policies and practices in Francophone Africa, specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, and Cote D’Ivoire.

Language of Instruction Transition in Education Systems (LITES)

There is significant evidence that learning in a child’s first language promotes consistent learning gains across a variety of programs and contexts, but little is understood about how education systems should add or transition to a second language. This study aims to fill this gap by generating evidence regarding factors that contribute to the success of language of instruction transitions for learners’ second language literacy skills.

What Works to Improve Early Grade Literacy in Latin America and the Caribbean? A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis

This systematic review examines the effectiveness and fidelity of implementation of various programs in the Latin America and the Caribbean region that aim to improve early grade literacy outcomes, including teacher training, school feeding, computer‐aided instruction, nutrition, and technology‐in‐education.

Creating and Preserving Stories in Honduran Communities: The Teacher Citizen Participation Project

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. The USAID-funded Teacher Citizen Participation Project—known as Proyecto EducAcción—aimed to improve child literacy rates through strengthened community participation in education, teacher professional development, and increased access to reading materials.

Image of language mapping in MozambiqueVamos Ler! (Let's Read!) Mozambique

Despite a twofold increase in primary school enrollment in Mozambique over the past 15 years, educational outcomes remain largely inadequate. Vamos Ler! aims to ensure that Grades 1 to 3 students in Nampula and Zambézia provinces can achieve grade-level fluency and comprehension in local languages.

Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy

Millions of children across the world are unable to read a single word even after up to four years of schooling. This landscape report reviews and summarizes available empirical evidence on early grade literacy acquisition and instruction in developing countries.

Image of boy in Guatemala classroomChild Literacy Development Program - Laos and Guatemala

Students entering primary school in developing countries often struggle when learning to read for various reasons: formal education systems lack resources, teachers are not well prepared, classes are overflowing, children enter school with very little exposure to print, and the language differs from the child’s home language. In partnership with Catholic Relief Services, AIR is creating, implementing, and evaluating a Child Literacy Development program for Grade 1 and 2 children in Laos and for Grade 1 in Guatemala.

Impact Evaluation of the Read Write Inc. Phonics and Fresh Start Programs in the United Kingdom

Read Write Inc. Phonics is a complete literacy program targeted at 4- to 6-year-olds learning to read and write, and 7- to 8-year-olds needing to catch up. Fresh Start is a 33-week catch-up literacy program delivered to target children in Years 5 – 8 identified as having fallen behind in reading and writing. Working with Queens University, Belfast, we are implementing a cluster of randomized controlled trials to determine the impact of the programs on various pertinent reading outcomes in the UK.

Egyptian children readingA Second Chance: Remedial Reading in Egypt

Many Egyptian students are missing out on foundational literacy skills in the early grades while older students are being passed along into the upper grades without having acquired such skills. In this video, AIR literacy specialist Rebecca Stone talks about how AIR developed a remedial reading and writing program and literacy teacher-training program to address the need in Egypt.

Teacher and child in IndiaLanguage and the Global Learning Crisis: How Best to Teach Multilingual Children

Many students throughout the developing world struggle with reading, and some 250 million children are still unable to read a single word after having been in school for up to four years. In this video, Pooja Reddy Nakamura explains the role that language and multilingualism plays in the global learning crisis.

Quality Reading Project – Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan

Tajik boy reading Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are bringing about a paradigm shift in what it means to be a reader, and in how education systems must be restructured to support children’s acquisition of comprehension and critical reading skills. AIR is providing the Ministry of Education in each country with a set of measurable, uniform goals that define what is expected of students, teachers, school directors, district and regional education officials, and teacher mentors. Read about one participating teacher's experiences in the field.

Elizabeth Spier imageWhat Are the Research Frontiers in Global Literacy Interventions?

Many literacy interventions have emerged to help children around the world learn to read outside of school. Elizabeth Spier, an AIR principal researcher, talks about what evidence exists about how effective complementary outside school reading activities are at actually improving overall literacy outcomes.

Is Reading Contagious? Examining Parents’ and Children’s Reading Attitudes and Behaviors

Infographic: ReadingWhen children have positive reading attitudes and behaviors, they generally also demonstrate strong reading skills. Drawing on data on 4th-grade students from the  Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), this brief and infographic series explore whether parents’ reading attitudes and behaviors are shared by their children.

FRAME kids in IndiaFacilitating Reading Acquisition in Multilingual Environments (FRAME) – India

Many students around the world grow up and go to school in multilingual environments, yet there isn’t enough evidence about how to effectively promote reading acquisition in linguistically diverse contexts. The Facilitating Reading Acquisition in Multilingual Environments (FRAME) study addresses this gap by examining the predictors of biliteracy acquisition in South India. Read the final report and related commentary by Pooja Reddy Nakamura, Language in Learning and Literacy: Native Tongues First.

Literacy Policy and Practice in Ethiopia: Building on the TELL Program and EGRA Results

The purpose of this study on early grade reading and English language learning in primary education in Ethiopia was to explore current policies and practice and make evidence-based recommendations to improve early grade reading and English language learning in Ethiopia.

In the United States

Lessons Learned from One School District’s Experience in Implementing Research-Based Literacy Instruction

Many schools hoping to infuse practices with research have encountered challenges, and Battle Creek Public Schools’ experience implementing literary instruction grounded in research is no different. These challenges can serve as lessons for other education leaders, as AIR expert Kerstin Le Floch describes in this In the Field piece.

How NAEP’s Oral Reading Fluency Study Informs Literacy Instruction

In this Q&A, AIR's Bitnara Jasmine Park, Abigail Foley, and Rebecca Bates discuss the findings of the 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study, which were released this year. They offer their insights into how policymakers, education leaders, and teacher preparation and professional learning programs can use the findings to strengthen literacy instruction.

Image of PIAAC mapNew Tool Maps Literacy and Numeracy Skills Across U.S. States and Counties

Literacy and numeracy are cornerstones of our modern society. Jaleh Soroui discusses the data behind the National Center for Education Statistics' PIAAC Skills Mapping tool, and how it can be used by state and county policymakers, administrators, educators, researchers, and others to draft policies, address gaps, set priorities, and allocate resources.

Cultivating Oral Language and Literacy Talents in Students (COLLTS)

Cultivating Oral Language Literacy Talent in Students (COLLTS) is an early childhood program comprised of units that promote the development of pre-reading skills, oral language proficiency, and background and conceptual knowledge through the use of interactive reading with high-quality children’s literature.

A Multisite Randomized Controlled Trial of Descubriendo la Lectura (DLL)

There is a pressing need for Spanish-language early intervention programs for students at risk of literacy failure. The Descubriendo la Lectura offers one-on-one lessons in Spanish for a period of 12‒20 weeks to first-grade Spanish-speaking English learners struggling with reading and writing. The program extends the successful Reading Recovery approach to ELs by first addressing literacy in their native language.

Infographic: Adult English Literacy in the United States

A National Center for Education Statistics Data Point shows that one in five adults in the United States have low English literacy skills, meaning that they would have difficulty understanding, evaluating, using, or engaging with written texts.

Infographic: How Many U.S. Adults Have Low English Literacy Skills?

Do U.S. Adults Have the Skills Needed to Thrive in the 21st Century? Four PIAAC Studies by AIR

The go-to source for valid, reliable, and actionable data to inform adult education and training is the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). AIR researchers presented four studies at the third PIAAC Research-to-Practice Conference.

Diane AugustDual Language Education Programs: Current State Policies and Practices

Recent research suggests that dual language education programs, a type of bilingual education program in which students are taught literacy and academic content in English and a partner language, provide more opportunities for English learners to reach higher levels of academic achievement. Read our blog post, Five Ways States Can Support Dual Language Programs, and watch our video, Making Research Relevant: Dual Language Programs Explained for more on this subject.

Teacher and studentCenter for English Learners

In 2013, 4.4 million U.S. public school students were classified as English language learners. These students come to school with the benefit of speaking a language other than English. The Center supports states, districts, and schools as they work with ELs to achieve English proficiency and meet content standards. Watch the webinar recording of English Learners and Close Reading: Providing Scaffolding for Writing.

Study of the Native American and Alaska Native Children in School Program

The Native American and Alaska Native Children in School discretionary grants program aims to reduce the persistent achievement gap between Native American and Alaska Native youth and their peers in reading and English language arts and college readiness in reading. This qualitative study examined the types of activities grantees funded, and the perceived benefits, challenges, and lessons learned.

The Adult Learning Story

According to the Program for Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the latest international survey of adult literacy, one in six Americans struggle with basic literacy. In this video, students share their struggles and triumphs, including those of a grandmother taking classes because she couldn’t understand her young grandchildren’s homework, an immigrant who is learning English to get ahead financially, and a laid-off worker convinced that a GED is crucial to getting a job.

Infographic: Tapping the Potential in Adult EducationTapping the Potential: Infographics Illustrate Need for Further Skills Training Among American Adults

This series of infographics illustrates the need for further literacy, numeracy and skills training among adults in America. PIAAC findings show adults in the U.S. lagged behind other countries in the industrialized world in each of the three skill areas. The infographics highlight findings for each state and the U.S. overall

Pooja Nakamura
Principal Researcher and Program Area Lead, International Education