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Youth-led solutions to improve community literacy: Research from the Evoke Literacy Pilot Program

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Street (Level 0), Regency B

Proposal

Evoke Literacy— developed by multiple organizations (a partnership between two bi-lateral organizations and an international NGO to improve reading; an educational publisher and an international bank)—is the latest in a suite of Evoke digital learning games. Originally developed by an international bank, the award-winning, team-based Evoke learning games support youth’s development of character, life skills, and social innovation, at the same time enabling them to collaboratively develop solutions for global challenges, including child illiteracy, human trafficking, and water scarcity.

This presentation will summarize findings from a quasi-experimental evaluation and relevant learnings from the Evoke Literacy pilot program. The first Evoke Literacy pilot was implemented by an NGO in Limpopo, South Africa which engaged youth participants (in and out of school) through a local community center. The second Evoke Literacy pilot was implemented in Tembisa, South Africa. and engaged participants from Grades 10 and 11 at two secondary schools. Following the completion of the pilot program, an evaluation was conducted by a South African consulting agency with extensive experience assessing learning programs in the South African context. The presentation will also highlight learnings and potential avenues for other organizations to use this approach to engage youth to solve barriers to early literacy in their communities.

The Context: 78% of grade 4 learners in the Republic of South Africa are functionally illiterate, according to the recent PIRLS 2017 report, and Limpopo has the lowest literacy rates in the entire country. Since the formal education system cannot tackle this alone, engaging youth to solve this grand challenge has great potential! There are few opportunities for skill building and unemployment is very high. Just 36% of the working-age population was employed in 2015, compared to a national average of more than 40%. With this background, it is clear why youth walked up to 45 mins to participate in Evoke Literacy each day and wanted graduation gear and formal recognition of their skill growth and commitment.

The quasi-experimental evaluation was designed as a pre-test / post-test study, with a control group, to determine the impact of Evoke Literacy on youth 21st century (21c), social innovation and digital literacy skills (Freeman, B. & Hawkins, R. 2016) as well as their knowledge of how children learn to read. Qualitative data sourced from focus groups and interviews is used to support and inform the results of the quantitative analysis. Lessons learned from this pilot were addressed prior to the beginning of the second pilot.

Interesting Findings:
Improved 21st Century Skills: Pilot #1 revealed improvement in all Creative Visionary, Deep Collaborator and Systems Thinker skill groups, but not in Empathic Activism according to the Professionals’ ratings of youth participants. (All Children Reading, 2018) The professionals’ ratings (one of three questionnaires used to measure 21c skills) show the clearest picture of improvement in the four main 21c Skill Groups in both intervention groups as compared to the control group. This finding clearly supports the positive impact of EVOKE on participants.
However, Pilot #2 only showed significant improvement in the Empathic Activist Skill group.

Improved Social Innovation Skills: Agents displayed a heightened sense of individual confidence about their abilities as the developmental process unfolded. Youth clearly demonstrated an entrepreneurial perspective, stating that they would use their new literacy knowledge to further their careers, start up a group project to assist schoolchildren with their work, start mini-libraries, write books, etc regardless of whether they received funding.

In Pilot #2, thirty percent more youth improved their overall Agency than the control group.
Improved Knowledge of How Children Learn to Read: Regardless of age, youth demonstrated an improved knowledge base of literacy. From the skills that were identified, the qualitative results suggest that the Agents had undergone a radical change in how they perceived literacy issues within their communities and their role in terms of addressing the challenges that they identified during their research. Agents gained insights into literacy concepts and principles that will improve their ability to nurture their own children and/or the younger children in their extended families.

Some relevant learnings include: 1. Web-based platforms and game mechanics have motivating features, especially for youth, however internet access remains a significant hindrance in low resource settings. 2. Open-source gaming platforms must have appropriate technical support, administration, on-going development and bug-fixing to respond to the needs of end users. 3. Youth-led solutions, built through a human centered design process, have potential to empower youth to get involved in solving problems in their community. 4. Most of the Evoke Literacy participants were not interested in literacy prior to the project, but after interviewing primary students and teachers, they developed empathy and agency as social innovators. 5. Teamwork and communication are challenging for youth, especially when this is not a normal part of their coursework. Specifically trained facilitators and activities designed to recognize team member qualities can help to prepare youth for 21st century employment.

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