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Three children reading
Impact

Improving Early Grade Reading and Mathematics in the Kyrgyz Republic

Okuu Keremet! (Learning is Awesome) Project: Building a Sustainable Foundation for Improving Children's Reading and Math Skills in the Kyrgyz Republic

Objective

To improve reading and math performance of 300,000 students in Grades 1-4 in 1,687 target schools in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Approach 

Working in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) and its affiliated departments, as well as other relevant Ministries and local stakeholders, Okuu Keremet! focuses on improving the quality of teaching reading and math to early grade learners, providing students with high-quality supplementary learning materials, and increasing the capacity of the government to improve the quality of education for every child.

Impact

The Okuu Keremet! project offers a path for the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to optimize early grade learning outcomes and ensure that students succeed at the primary level by improving their performance in reading and mathematics.

By the numbers expected impact

The Kyrgyz Republic is making considerable progress towards improving the quality of its education system. The country maintains high levels of access to primary and secondary education, has well established pre-service and in-service education infrastructure, and has reshaped its education system in line with the values of the independent Kyrgyz Republic. Accomplishments are evidenced in improved curricula, teaching materials, textbooks, teacher education, and continued government investments in its education sector.

The country is also investing significant resources to prepare for participation in the 2025 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international large-scale educational assessment that measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. The Okuu Keremet! project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is supporting the MOES to build a foundation that will lead to strong performance on the 2025 PISA assessment.

The project’s methodology is straightforward yet powerful: use evidence-based learning programming to systematize effective practices and build capacity of relevant actors involved in education programming so that the MOES becomes self-reliant in using these practices. Underpinning the implementation is the consistent use of educational data to monitor, learn from, and improve learning at all levels.

Improved Outcomes via Evidence-Based Learning Programming

To improve student learning outcomes, by the end of the project, Okuu Keremet! will:

  • Streamline curricula, standards, and teacher professional development (TPD) materials as key inputs into student learning outcomes, while providing administrative, technical, and programmatic support to the MOES to strengthen teacher development and management systems, tailoring the approach as needed for the diverse country’s context.
  • Encourage the practice of skills both in and out of the classroom to accelerate learning and address inequities in access to and quality of school-based instruction.
  • Systematically improve pedagogical support to teachers, equip teachers to adjust instruction to diverse children based on formative assessment findings, make reliable data available for decisions making about resource allocation and budgeting, improve the quality of pre-service teacher training, and increase support to vulnerable students.

Improved Teacher’s Instructional Skills for Reading and Math

The Okuu Keremet! project collaborated with the MOES’ Republican Institute for Advanced Teacher Training to improve the existing teacher training reading modules by:

  1. Adding advanced strategies for teaching comprehension
  2. Embedding strategies for transitioning from a first language to a second language, and
  3. Employing adult learning strategies to ensure mastery

The project also developed a complementary set of five advanced evidence-based reading modules, all specifically designed to further equip teachers to accelerate student learning and close the comprehension gap.  

For mathematics, the project developed five basic and five advanced evidence-based mathematics modules for foundational (e.g., numbers and number sense) and functional math literacy (the math assessed on measures such as PISA and later life skills). All modules and materials were developed in four languages – Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik, and Uzbek – and developed in both print and blended formats designed for distance teacher training and self-paced learning.

To date, more than 18,000 teachers and librarians have been trained and have active accounts on the online training platform Okuu Keremet and more than 470,000 students (significantly higher than the anticipated 300,000) are benefiting from the project’s work in 1,687 schools.

Increased Availability of Children’s Books

Okuu Keremet! is increasing the supply of quality books, especially for Tajik and Uzbek languages which are considered minority languages. The project works with the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports and Youth Policy and the Kyrgyz Academy of Education to set an agenda for engaging local authors and illustrators to develop (using the web-based, open-source software Bloom), print, and distribute quality supplemental books.

The project aims to adapt or develop 1,500 titles. These books will complement existing books and extend beyond the fairy tale and folklore genres to include biography, fantasy, humor, informational, narrative, series, and math-focused books, particularly in the Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik languages. These books will include big books, read-alouds, supplemental readers, and decodables that are leveled to facilitate independent reading and build comprehension skills.

As of June 2021, the project had supported 45 authors and illustrators to adapt and develop close to 400 books; 335 of which were digitized and hosted by the MOES. The project also improved technical specifications for the local publishing industry to ensure that books feature a variety of genres in addition to being skill- and age-appropriate. The project aims to distribute 700,000 children’s books by the end of the project; 275,000 copies of 45 different titles have been delivered thus far.

Strengthened Education System for Primary Education

Improving how teachers teach and having access to learning materials are both crucial to learning outcomes gains, but quality systems are essential for long term education improvement. Therefore, Okuu Keremet! is systematically addressing four critical gaps in the education system and working to increase:

  1. Pedagogical support for teachers
  2. Availability and use of data for making resource allocation and budgetary decisions
  3. Pre-service teacher development, and
  4. Support for vulnerable students

Okuu Keremet! and MOES are working closely to develop a strategic institutionalization plan and roadmap highlighting key areas of required capacity building across all MOES levels to improve reading and mathematics. To this end, systems will be adapted or developed as needed, to introduce the use of technology innovations to facilitate classroom-based learning assessments by teachers; map and institutionalize the flow of classroom data and how it is used to improve key processes; and focus on just-in-time monitoring of implementation to inform accurate decision-making.

The MOES’ approval of a roadmap for revisions and development of evidence-based learning standards for reading and mathematics marked a milestone for the improvement of the quality of education In the Kyrgyz Republic: The roadmap is the first such document developed in the country that provides a clear path and steps to revise learning standards.

Child holding a book

Photo credit: USAID Okuu Keremet! project

COVID-19 Adaptive Management – Virtual Learning & Remote Accommodations

Okuu Keremet! has successfully responded to the implementation challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with government counterparts, the project adjusted the existing five basic reading modules and developed five advanced modules and 10 math modules through a virtual process involving experts in the Kyrgyz Republic, experts in the United States, and two subcontractors, one in the United States, and the other in the Kyrgyz Republic.

At the request of MOES, Okuu Keremet! supported the development of 1,488 video lessons that the government used to educate children virtually during the 2020–2021 school year. Okuu Keremet! continues to respond to MOES initiatives aimed at addressing educational challenges, especially as the government tackles the effects of long school closure and the uncertainties of COVID-19’s trajectory in the future.  

A major aspect of adaptive management has been to maintain interventions that improve primary education and to achieve deliverables while staff as well as key counterparts have worked remotely. Achievements included conducting a nationally representative Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) from April to May 2021, and keeping a math pilot going in 30 schools despite the pandemic. The project will continue to support the MOES to adapt to challenges of the pandemic, while helping to strengthen the system to be more resilient to future shocks, no matter their source.

View the Baseline Results on the Early Grade Reading Barometer