DevTech Practice Area:
Program Design and Implementation • Assessment and Research • Capacity Building • Knowledge Management
Education • Security
The USAID Community Action for Reading and Security (CARS) Activity, implemented by DevTech from 2013 to 2019, was designed to improve early-grade reading outcomes and community security in eight municipalities across Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.
From 2013 to 2016, the CARS Activity reached coastal communities in Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean region. In 2017, CARS extended its activities to the northern Caribbean region. Both the northern and southern regions are characterized by their linguistic diversity, with Spanish, English, Garifuna, Miskito, Ulwa, Creole, and Mayangna being spoken by different communities.
At the time of the project’s implementation, the region counted an insufficient supply of skilled teachers in preschools and primary schools as one of its many challenges in improving reading performance among young learners. Additionally, children and youth in the region faced inadequate access to preschool and non-formal alternative education opportunities. For example, according to 2014 EMNV data, 70.1 percent of three to five years old in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast did not have access to a preschool—a figure that is 12.5 percentage points higher than the national average. The region also experienced significant security challenges in comparison to national averages, including high homicide and sexual crime rates (National Police Yearbook, 2018).
Across the six years of the Nicaragua CARS project, DevTech worked closely with local organizations and stakeholders to achieve the following objectives:
- Improve early grade reading outcomes through formal and non-formal—such as afterschool classes—reading programs.
- Strengthen community engagement with local education and safety issues to support the cultivation of an environment in which children can feel safe to play and learn, and in which youth can thrive, paving the way for a more secure future.
- Strengthen local institutional capacity to improve reading and security outcomes in the region over the life of the activity and beyond.
- Provide knowledge management support, ensuring that USAID, the U.S. Government, the Government of Nicaragua, and other donors and development stakeholders have high quality data and other types of information to inform the planning and implementation of other activities in the region.
Through CARS, the DevTech team:
- Reached a total of 26,793 students—111% of the contract target—in 220 preschools and primary schools as well as 323 Espacios Para Crecer (EpCs), which translates to Spaces for Growth, a daily three-hour extra-curricular program developed by DevTech to provide additional learning time to children who are considered at risk.
- Successfully contributed to improved reading outcomes, as evidenced by baseline and midline data collected in 2014 and 2016 respectively, which showed a 20-percentage point increase in students reading with fluency in first grade. Specifically, in 2014, 5.3 percent of first graders were reading with fluency as compared to 25.3 percent in 2016. Additionally, A 2020 USAID-conducted study found that EpCs were the most effective after-school intervention undertaken under Development Objective 2: “Safety and competitiveness of at-risk children and youth in targeted areas improved” of USAID/Nicaragua’s 2013-2017 Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS).
- Supported community leaders and members in increasing their capacity to analyze, plan, and implement activities related to education and security. This was primarily achieved through the establishment of community-led Analysis Commissions (AC), which served to identify and address community educational and security needs through the development and implementation of Community Action Plans (CAPs). Between 2015 and 2019, 153 CAPs were implemented across the region, including 57 CAPs focused on the issues of gender-based violence and counter-trafficking in persons. Examples of interventions undertaken as part of the CAPs include the construction of a new school latrine; the installation of an electrical system at school; AC members conducting home sensitization visits to boys and girls who had failed to attend regular classes and EpCs. None of these activities received U.S. Government funding. Instead, funding was raised locally by the ACs. A total of $146,377.73 was obtained as dollar value of cash and in-kind support from local partners to implement community action plans and/or reading and security activities in targeted areas, which represented 122 percent of the CARS contract target..
- Supported local partner organizations in improving their Organizational Capacity Assessments (OCA) scores from an average of 2.8 in 2015 to an average of 3.44 in 2019, equivalent to a 22.7 percent increase—OCA is a facilitated self-assessment tool used to measure an organization’s capacity. By the end of the activity, five partner organizations had the capacity to conduct high quality development activities and qualify for direct management of USG funding.
- Oversaw the development of 12 studies and surveys to ensure decision-makers, including public and private organizations, USAID, NGOs, and other stakeholders have the tools and data for defining, adjusting, and improving gender and education policy in the region. DevTech’s Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA) included specific, relevant policy recommendations and were disseminated to local education representatives from the Ministry of Education. Of particular note was DevTech’s role in establishing and disseminating Miskito (a native language that is commonly used in the region) standards among the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region educational authorities.
— CPAR 2020
- Formal reading programs: DevTech produced and contextualized teaching and learning materials for students and teachers served by the CARS Activity. The CARS baseline report (2014) found that 70 percent of teachers had no textbooks for their students, 30 percent had no materials to prepare their classes, and 19 percent had no didactic resources to use for teaching. Between 2013 and 2019, CARS provided 139,115 teaching and learning materials to schools, teachers, and students. These materials were instrumental for increasing the amount of time that students dedicated to reading both in the classroom and at home. Additionally, DevTech and its partners carried out activities in preschools and primary schools, including training teachers in the application of strategies for teaching reading, and undertaking classroom visits to ensure compliance with the CARS methodology and strategies.
- Non-formal reading programs: DevTech’s after-school and before-school program for at risk children, EpC, aimed to encourage children to develop reading skills, strengthen children’s attachment to school, improve overall academic performance, and support social-emotional development. EpCs are a DevTech product inspired by the Quantum Learning® methodology, which uses the senses—sight, sound, touch, smell, and psychomotor—to create a more dynamic learning experience. Through the EpCs, DevTech and its partners delivered learning materials—books and reading materials for children, and EpC facilitator instruction materials—that met the linguistic and other needs of this linguistically diverse region.
- Community engagement: To ensure the sustainability of improved educational outcomes, DevTech worked with communities to increase citizen participation in addressing some of the challenges inhibiting advancements in learning inside and outside of the classroom. DevTech’s engagement approach centered on the establishment of Analysis Commissions, which worked to develop and implement Community Action Plans. In complement, DevTech’s CARS team also established Parent’s Schools to provide parents with an open space to exchange parenting advice, while also fostering competencies that encourage more commitment to the development of their community, educational activities, and their own child. DevTech and its partners also worked with ACs to develop private sector involvement in the implementation of their CAP activities.
Success Story - A Space for Growth in Bluefields, Nicaragua
Spaces for Growth, known in Spanish as Espacios para Crecer (EpCs), were a central component of DevTech’s CARS project in Nicaragua. These extra-curricular programs targeted early grade reading by implementing dynamic and participatory strategies for teaching and learning, providing children the opportunity to improve their self-esteem and develop their reading skills.
The Menorca School in Bluefields is located in a very high-risk zone for children. Within this adverse context, the Menorca EpC became a lighthouse for vulnerable children. According to Estela Rigby, the EpC facilitator in charge, “thanks to CARS, five of the kids who are attending this EpC have become good students in their morning public school class.”
Audring Alisha Dayson Humpyes, a seven-year old girl who was in first grade in the Menorca School, was one of this EpCs success stories. “Before CARS, this girl did not know how to read or write; thanks to CARS the kids who belong to this EpC have overcome their initial shortcomings when they first began EpC classes,” explained the EpC facilitator Ms. Rigby. Audring took full advantage of opportunities made available by the CARS program. As per Ms. Rigby: “She really fell in love with the school, and now is an excellent student in her section because she significantly improved her reading and writing skills.”
When contemplating the reasons for the success of the EpC program, Ms. Rigby noted that in addition to providing a space for learning, the EpCs work because attending children also find love, tenderness, and affection at the centers.