DevTech improved access and quality of education in multicultural, multilingual, remote communities of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua through CARS.

DevTech Systems, Inc. implemented the Community Action for Reading and Security (CARS) Activity, funded by USAID, in eight municipalities of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast. The Activity was implemented from September 27, 2013 to February 28, 2020, with the objective of improving early grade reading performance in students from 1st to 3rd grade of primary and contribute to reduce citizen insecurity in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. This is the first of a series of three Blogs that highlight how DevTech ensured that the CARS Activity achieved the objectives established with USAID. The second blog will address how CARS contributed to improve citizen security and the third blog will highlight how DevTech developed and strengthened local capacity among Nicaraguan Non-Governmental Organizations and Universities.

The Caribbean Coast is recognized by its ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as the prevalence of various languages spoken by minority groups. The 2014 household survey (EMNV) data shows that 7.4% of the Nicaraguan population are identified as part of an ethnic group, 75.2% are from the Caribbean Coast. The Caribbean Coast educational conditions present greater challenges than the rest of the national territory. For example, the EMNV 2014 data also shows that the average years of schooling are 5.9 for the Caribbean Coast and 7.0 for the Country; there is 11.4% of illiterate population in the Caribbean Coast, while the Country average is 6.26%. Data from the 2014 CARS baseline showed that, at that moment, 30% of teachers did not have Teaching and Learning Materials (TLM) to prepare their classes, and 70% of teachers affirmed that their students did not have textbooks either.

These conditions affected reading fluency performance. The 2014 Baseline assessment found that only 5.3% of first grade students were able to read with fluency in Spanish. In order to mitigate the needs of the educational community, DevTech purchased and distributed more than 139,000 teaching and reading materials. Materials included textbooks to practice reading at school and at home; fungible materials along with training on how to effectively use them to improve classroom setting; teacher guides for educators with examples and exercises to apply in the classrooms. DevTech also provided teacher training and bimonthly coaching on innovative strategies and methodologies to improve reading fluency, with more than 1,600 teachers.

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One core component of DevTech’s approach was the implementation of the Espacios para Crecer (Spaces for Growth) EpCs. DevTech’s EpC program intervention was organized in the regions to support and complement the regular school curriculum and provide activities for healthy holistic development of personal, social and academic skills. EpCs are implemented with community buy-in and held in spaces provided by the local communities, such as town halls, churches, local businesses, homes and even in schools. Facilitators, many of whom are teachers, lead EpCs. The program is based in Quantum Learning® methodology, which uses the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and psychomotor) to create a more dynamic learning experience. The material covered in the EpCs was developed and contextualized to the local context of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast to compliment the national curriculum and uses music, theater, art, physical education and literature to enhance learning. Participants are kept away from manifestations of risk, insecurity, abuse, violence and violation of their legal rights. Children not in school are reinserted as successful participants in regular schooling. Children learn the importance of education in assuring their growth as citizens and positive contributors to society. Through awareness raising activities, parents, community members and leaders become responsible for and participated in the development of the EpC participants. CARS Review 2.jpg

The external evaluation led by Mathematica Policy Research found that the EpC program had a positive impact in medium-remote communities on children’s decoding ability, equivalent to 13.12% compared to the control group. Children in the treatment group were able to correctly read two more invented words (pseudo-words) in one minute than students in the control group were. Children in the treatment group correctly read an average of 18 invented words in one minute, whereas children in the control group read an average of 16 invented words. EpC also had a positive impact on children’s reading fluency, equivalent to 12% more than the control group. The average child in the control group was able to read 37 words per minute, and in the treatment group, the average child could read 41 words per minute. Lastly, EpC had positive impacts on reading comprehension.

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EpCs are a DevTech product inspired by Quantum Learning. The program was originally financed by the USDOL. We have worked with partners in an array of countries to revise, contextualize, and adapt the program. We developed the program in the Dominican Republic (2007-2011) where EpCs are still being implemented with USAID funding and active private sector and community support. In addition, we have implemented EpCs with CARE in Central America and with Partners of the Americas in Colombia, Ecuador and Panama. DevTech considers the program implementation in Nicaragua as highly successful, despite the implementation challenges in the region, and can serve as a starting point for future educational interventions in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua

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Learn more about the CARS project here.