Insufficient level of reading proficiency among children in Suriname

UNICEF and the University of Suriname launch program “LEES-KRACHT” aimed at improving children’s reading skills

11 March 2024
Quality education, training and employment, children in Apoera, Suriname
Students in Apoera, Suriname

Today was the official launch of the professionalization program "READING POWER” to increase the reading skills for children.

In Suriname efforts are being increased to strengthen children's basic language and math skills, in response to the emerging learning crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will be executed by The Speech Therapy Research Unit (RUL) of the Anton de Kom University of Suriname (AdeKUS) supported by THOMAS MORE, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, with technical and financial support from UNICEF.

Six out of ten children globally are unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of ten, according to UNICEF data. This learning crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Suriname was not spared.

In Suriname, UNICEF MICS (2018) data showed less than half (47%) of children aged 7-14 years have foundational reading skills nationally and 29% in the interior.

Between 2019 and 2021, a declining trend was observed in the absolute number of children enrolled in primary school, with a decrease of 8,244. The out-of-school rate increased to 15.7% in 2021, compared to 6.1% in 2019 in primary education.

 Additionally, the net enrollment rate declined from 93% in 2019 to 84.3% in 2021, indicating that fewer children are attending grades aligned with the official age category (MinOWC, 2021). The automatic transition and reform of the assessment method in primary education in 2021, coupled with the learning loss due to school closures during COVID, have challenged teachers to address the unmet and varied entry-level foundational skills of children in reading and writing for each grade.

The observed consequence is an insufficient level of reading proficiency among children in Suriname, which hinders their educational development and future opportunities. Key data reveals that many young people enter the job market without adequate reading skills, limiting their chances of success. The main causes of this problem include the lack of comprehensive and explicit emergent literacy instruction during early school years, which increases the risk of developing reading difficulties later.

“Now in particular, increased attention is needed for foundational literacy and numeracy as children have endured learning losses and teacher grapple with differentiation approaches to support students with a wide range of language proficiency in the same grade.” Says Javier Cordoba Program Manager UNICEF Suriname during his remarks.

The Transforming Education Summit in 2022 by the United Nations was convened to bring global attention to this global education crisis and elevate education to the top of the political agenda. The Commitment to Action resulting from that summit was endorsed in 2023 by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Suriname. Thereby committing to acting on strengthening foundational learning as a key element to transform education.

The added value of the 2-year program ‘Reading Power’, lies in its method of implementation. The project aims to demonstrate the effectiveness of a professionalization program for emergent literacy instruction, which combines training of teachers and participation in a learning network. This holistic approach ensures not only the acquisition of knowledge but also the practical implementation of effective instruction techniques, leading to improved reading outcomes for children. The program targets teachers from Grade 2 and Grade 3 (the first two years in primary) to ensure children establish a sound foundation in literacy in 30 primary schools giving training to 120 teachers in Paramaribo, Brokopondo and Nickerie, reaching over 1,000 students.

Aside from school-based capacity building, the program also includes capacity building for the Ministry of Education and The Speech Therapy Research Unit (RUL) by international partner experts, enabling them to provide effective support and take up their leadership role in society. This will initiate sustainable upscaling mechanisms to enhance uptake in other Suriname schools.

Media contacts

Mahogany Neede
Communications Officer
Unicef Guyana and Suriname
Tel: +5977101017


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