Education is just too important to have any barriers to access.
Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, O.N., M.P.
Our Programs (Expanded)
In 2015, 45% of Jamaican girls and 63% of boys in grades 1 through 3 were not proficient in reading. If these students do not receive effective interventions now, they are less likely to ever become grade-level readers. Many of these students have little or no access to books in their homes, schools or communities.
As a developing nation, Jamaica continues to struggle economically and has suffered from political upheaval, high public debt, extreme poverty, low growth and an unemployment rate of up to 16.5%. According to the World Bank, over the last 30 years, Jamaica has had one of the slowest growing economies - at roughly 1 percent - in the developing world and up to 37% unemployment among its youths. These and other factors have contributed to an educational environment lacking in a systemic approach to addressing some of the challenges facing Jamaica's schools and students. Compounding the problem is the absence of books in almost 50% of homes.
Although significant attempts have been made to dispose of school fees and other auxiliary school-related charges, many primary and secondary school students still struggle to stay in school, especially those from vulnerable communities. A lot of schools also lack appropriate reading materials, have no library or have outdated material that is not child-friendly. Additionally, low or no technology, poor infrastructure, overworked and unqualified teachers (in some cases) all exacerbate the problem. Attending class is also challenging for students from some of the remote areas as they must often walk long distances or need to take multiple forms of transportation to reach the nearest school.
Reading Owls operates primarily in government schools and works closely with educators, parents, the Jamaica Library Service, the Early Childhood Commission and US Peace Corps volunteers to address the quality and accessibility to books, technology and other educational resources organizations need. We build or supplement lending libraries and computer labs serving students from disadvantaged communities and focus heavily on early childhood and elementary schools to build a culture of reading as early as possible, in order to positively impact literacy rates and stave off the unfortunate consequences of illiteracy.
Our goal is to increase the literacy levels of all school-aged students in Jamaica by providing book rich environments, new, exciting and culturally relevant books and a support structure -including collaborating with all stakeholders - to ensure that all the tools necessary for success are at the disposal of teachers, students and their families.
Since the introduction of our literacy programs starting in 2015, all of our partner schools have introduced library periods and many have adopted "Drop Everything and Read" programs. In addition, our literacy program is enhancing the culture of reading in communities as some of our libraries are open on weekends for the use of the community to check out books, as well as have a space to read and study. We are putting students on a path to become independent readers, and lifelong learners as we "create readers for life."