What is EPER?
It is a non-profit making research and development project set up in 1981 by ELTC (formerly IALS) in the University of Edinburgh.
We seek to promote the systematic use of graded readers within an extensive reading programme that forms an integral part of the ELT syllabus.
What do we do?
1. We maintain a library and database of all graded readers published in the UK. We assess the quality of each title on a 5-point scale, and classify its difficulty on an 8-level scale.
2. We advise publishers on the production and development of their series of graded readers.
3. We supervise postgraduate students who wish to study an aspect of extensive reading within their course.
4. We give help and advice to individual teachers, ministries of education and educational organisations who want to set up a reading programme.
5. We publish our own materials to support individual and class use of graded readers.
Who works for EPER
David R Hill directs the project. He taught English in secondary schools in Uganda, the UK and Malaysia before joining ELTC in 1981. As Project Director he has given talks and led workshops in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Spain, Argentina and the UK, and corresponded with teachers and education officials in many other countries including New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Korea, China, India, Jordan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, Chile, Mexico, USA, Canada, Norway, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, France and the UK.
Greaney, V. (Ed.). (1996). Promoting reading in developing countries: Views on making reading materials accessible to increase literacy levels. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
[This review, by George Jacobs, appeared in 1998 in Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, 8, 125-131.]
This book discusses the state of first language literacy in developing countries, focusing on the need for sufficient quality reading materials to raise and sustain literacy levels. English is not the first language of any Asian country; so, why should readers of this journal be interested in the book? Four reasons suggest themselves.
First, the ESL field should support first language literacy in other languages because we should hold an additive, rather than replacive, view of our goal (Alatis, 1975), i.e., we help people learn English as an additional language, not to take the place of their current language(s). Second, research suggests that literacy skills transfer across languages; so, good readers and writers in their native language have a head start towards being good readers and writers in second languages (Koda, 1994). Third, as education professionals, we should concern ourselves with more than just the scores our students get on English proficiency tests. These broader concerns start with the overall education of our students and of the general population in the countries in which we work (Cates, 1990). Building from there, literacy and education generally form key prerequisites of human and social development. Last, but not least, we should support literacy as a human right.
Fortunately, there is good news to report on the literacy front. Estimates indicate that the percentage of illiterate people internationally will decline from 39% in 1970 to 22% in 2000. Asia is no exception to this trend. Despite the progress made towards promoting universal literacy, almost 1 billion people remain illiterate worldwide, with the overwhelming majority of these in developing countries. This book provides important ideas on how to resolve this gaping wound.
The book comprises 10 chapters, with an overall focus on developing literacy among children rather than adults. In Chapter 1, Vincent Greaney begins by furnishing an overview of reasons for illiteracy and paths towards its elimination. In addition to lack of quality reading materials, the book’s main focus, other key reasons for illiteracy include:
1. Health problems - e.g., malnutrition annually causes blindness in up to a million children.
2. Gender inequality - in developing countries, illiteracy among females stands at 45% versus 25% for males, due in part to girls’ lower school attendance.
3. Unfavourable home conditions - e.g., poverty often leaves homes without space and light for reading and forces children to spend their time working rather than reading.
4. School deficiencies - e.g., teachers often lack training and livable salaries.
Greaney concludes his chapter on an optimistic note, citing the case of South Korea which in 1945 had an illiteracy rate of 78%; however, with sustained effort, today that rate has fallen below 4%.
Warwick Elley has done literacy research and development work in Asia and the Pacific. In Chapter 2, he reports on implications of a 4-year study comparing literacy practices in 32 countries from around the world. Elley notes that such cross-national studies provide unique insights, because many factors vary more between than within countries. Results of the study reported by Elley, for which data were collected in the early 1990s, suggest key factors in raising literacy are:
1. A sufficient quantity of readily available books.
2. School time for students to read.
3. Instruction which places less emphasis on teacher-led drills of discrete skills and more on motivating students to enjoy reading and to read on their own.
Chapter 3, by well known reading researcher Richard Anderson, reviews the research behind the view that large quantities of reading are the most important factor in vocabulary development and overall reading competence. For instance, he states that if students read just 15 minutes a day in school and 15 minutes a day outside school, they will be reading more than a total of 1 million words per year. If 20,000 of these are new words and, as research suggests, at least 5% of these are learned, Anderson estimates 1000 words a year will be learned, much more than would normally be learned by direct vocabulary instruction. Reading also surpasses oral language via conversation and TV as a source of vocabulary enrichment. Anderson cites one study which found that even comic books provided at least a two times richer lexical environment for children than did talking with adults.
Chapter 4 by João Oliveira and Chapter 5 by Tony Read discuss how to improve the quantity and quality of textbooks and children’s literature, respectively..
Oliviera notes that In many developing countries, although textbook expenditure seldom amounts to more than 1% of the education budget, textbooks are scarce. Indeed, while many reading experts advise against over-reliance on textbooks, many teachers are thankful just to have them, because in many schools textbooks provide the sole source of written language for their students. Further, textbooks supply guidance on what to teach and how to teach it.
Oliveira gives several reasons for the textbook shortage. First, as educational opportunity has expanded beyond economic elites, many more children are attending school, but the parents of these new students often lack the money to purchase textbooks. Second, while once the same textbook could be used for several generations, the rapid pace of curriculum change necessitates much more frequent textbook turnover. Third, the infrastructure for textbook production, which can take as long as 15 years to develop, has been stifled by economic woes and unfortunate policies.
The lack of sufficient children’s literature for the development of L1 literacy, according to Read, derives from two main causes: insufficient markets and lack of human and physical resources needed to develop sustainable publishing industries. The small markets result from such factors as:
1. Wealthier parents and the private schools which their children attend often buy imported books in English rather than locally produced books in national and local languages.
2. Teachers may not request the purchase of children’s literature and instead favour sole reliance on textbooks, because they are unfamiliar with teaching methods which promote the kind of wide reading supported by research summarised in the Anderson chapter.
3. Inadequate distribution networks stifle sales, e.g., in one project in the Philippines, 46% of the books produced did not get distributed.
4. The existence of languages spoken by only a portion of the population reduces the demand for books in those languages.
Read provides suggestions for increasing market demand and developing the expertise and equipment necessary to greatly increase the quantity and quality of children’s literature in developing countries.
In Chapter 6, Nelson Rodríquez-Trujillo discusses lessons from successful local pilot projects for promoting independent reading in South America. He notes that certain prerequisites must be met in order to extend these projects beyond the controlled settings in which they first grew:
1. Demonstration models.
2. A nucleus of educators who stay with the project.
3. Ongoing teacher development in line with the practices suggested in the Anderson chapter.
Scott Walter’s Chapter 7 follows from Chapter 5 by describing efforts to develop a children’s publishing industry in Africa. He argues that a "book famine" currently exists in Africa due to over-reliance on government publishing and distribution, and on imported books. Among Walter’s recommendations are:
1. Allocate funds to support demand for books rather than to support book production.
2. Develop local editorial, design, and marketing skills.
3. Promote books set in local contexts.
Chapter 8 is devoted to Elley’s description of "Book Flood" programmes which have been used to boost literacy in schools in several developing countries. Elley outlines 5 characteristics of book floods:
1. Students start reading extensively at primary school.
2. Students have access to a large number of books.
3. Books are selected to be appropriate in terms of student interest, cultural sensitivity, local context, resistance to wear, and print size.
4. Students are encouraged to read often by such means as allotted school time and teacher promotion of books.
5. The shared reading method is used. In this method, the class or a group of students read a book with the teacher who introduces the story, reads to the students, stops to involve them in predicting what will happen next and discussing what has happened, highlights key language points, e.g., vocabulary, as the need arises, and gradually has students do more and more of the reading themselves.
In Chapter 9, Rosamaria Durand and Suzanne M Deehy discuss book donation programmes. Such programmes have been criticized for jeopardizing the development of local book publishing and for the fact that many donated books are unsuitable, because they are outdated or irrelevant to local needs. However, the supply of potentially donatable books is huge, e.g., just in the U.S., every year 40 million new books are destroyed and a minimum of 2-4 million are donated. Durand and Deehy argue that donations can be a valuable interim way of supplying large quantities of quality reading materials if recipients and donors work together to ensure that book donation programmes are driven by demand.
Libraries constitute a key source of reading material, especially when book stores do not exist or are too expensive. Rebecca Knuth, Barbara Perry, and Brigitte Duces use Chapter 10 to illustrate how libraries in developing countries can meet the demands of their potential clients. The authors urge that libraries should change from being passive institutions serving mainly as book caretakers to become active centres which reach out to provide a range of services to the communities they are to serve. Alternatives can take the form of:
1. Mobile libraries.
2. Rotating collections which move between different schools, libraries, and community centres..
3. Staff who support users’ reading.
4. Provision of other services tied to literacy, e.g., storytelling, games related to reading, and health and childcare instruction.
To conclude with some general comments, the book grew out of a seminar sponsored by the World Bank which, at least at that time, stood for a larger role for the private sector in many spheres of society. Thus, it comes as no surprise that several of the book’s authors propose a wider role for private sector publishing and a smaller role for publishing by governments.
An alternative both government and privately produced books is the generation of materials by students and teachers themselves, a common practice in whole language approaches to literacy (e.g., Davidson, et al., 1997). This could have received more attention in this volume. Computers, especially CD-ROM, provide another source of reading materials not highlighted in the book. For instance, the United Nations University is participating in a project which plans to produce over 6,000 3,000-book CD-ROM libraries at a cost of US$50 per library (United Nations University, 1997). The obvious drawback here is the expense of computers and the infrastructure needed to support them.
Most of you reading this review probably have access to large amounts of reading material via libraries, bookstores, and the internet. Indeed, nowadays we hear about people suffering "information fatigue" from all the material out there to read. That is definitely the case for the writer of this review. However, we should remember that, as this book vividly points out, a significant proportion of the world’s population lack the ability to read, in part because they lack access to sufficient materials to read. The situation of information fatigue in the developed world and book famine in the developing world approximates that of people in the developing world spending large sums of money on pills, programmes, and equipment to prevent the ill effects of consuming the large quantity of food available to them, while some in the developing world suffer and even die from lack of access to food.
The International Reading Association has published many fine books, the current volume among them. This book serves its readers by informing us of the many avenues which exist for promoting literacy. ESL educators have already been involved in such efforts, e.g., the Global Issue in Language Education interest group of the Japan Association for Language Teaching <http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/jalt/nsig/globalissues/gi.html> has supported efforts to maintain minority languages in Japan. Hopefully, with the insights and inspiration found in this book, we will be able to do more and do it better.
Alatis, J.E. (1975). The compatibility of TESOL and bilingual education. In M.K. Burt & H.C. Dulay (Eds.), On TESOL ‘75 (pp. 3-14). Washington, D.C.: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Cates, K. (1990). Teaching for a better world: Global issues in language education. The Language Teacher, 14, 3-5.
Davidson, C. Ogle, D. Ross, D., Tuhaka, J. & Ng, S.M. (1997). Student-created reading materials for extensive reading. In Jacobs, G.M., Davis, C., & Renandya, W. Successful strategies for extensive reading (pp. 144-160). Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.