During this time of crisis, the fight against illiteracy is one of the major struggles of our society, involving many economic and social issues. Denis Tersen, director of the Paris/Ile de France regional development agency, explained in Le Monde on January 10 that "from a macroeconomic point of view, when we know that illiteracy is equivalent to five to six years of lost education and nearly one out of ten people in Ile de France is illiterate, illiteracy costs the region 0.2% in annual growth potential. " But beyond the cost of schooling lost, we must add the cost of errors caused by illiteracy in terms of safety and traffic control, plus the management of anxiety and stress on employees.
That is why I must mention the initiative of Michel Zorman, public health physician and director of the science of education lab at the University Pierre Mendes France of Grenoble. Aware of this serious problem, he developed the innovative “PARLER” method (Speak, Learn, Think, Read Together to Succeed).
An experiment using this method was carried out in nursery schools between 2005 and 2008 in Grenoble. It was created around four axes: the alphabet code, phonological analysis, vocabulary and explicit comprehension. These themes were carried out through exercises putting together drawings associated with the pronunciation containing the syllables, finding the word that doesn’t fit in a list, and puzzles. This method focuses on individual progress. These activities are a good example of the rise of the role of the individual in the learning process which will remain one of the biggest challenges in education and training in the coming years (see my post on the forum 's World Education of 28 November
). Michel Zorman explains that "in the ‘Parler’ method, each child’s progress must be followed closely to increase learning."
The results were dramatic: the groups that followed the “Parler” method were well above the national average. The weakest students represented only 11% of the group versus 25% in the national average sample. As for the very good readers, they went up 42% compared to 25% in the control groups.
The experiment was repeated in Lyon, but the teachers were not fully prepared on the ‘Parler’ method, and the results were not up to expectation. The Laboratory of Educational Sciences of Grenoble decided to suspend the operation.
But the Act for Education organization, funded by the Institut Montaigne, took over the project and launched a new experiment at Puy en Velay in the beginning of September. Interestingly, this project was accompanied by the mayor and Minister of higher education, Laurent Wauquier, who also has a 5-year-old daughter in school. With his agreement, the organization is also testing the method in 175 classes in the Paris suburbs.
If the experiment is successful, it should become more widespread, with the high hopes of lowering the rate of illiteracy and end the dispute between people for more syllabic based education and those who have a more global vision.
We can see how high the stakes really are by looking at the figures from the Citizen and Defense Day in 2010. We learned that for 17 year olds, 5% of them were almost illiterate, 5.7% read without understanding and 9.6% had a vague notion of the overall meaning. Finally, 9.2% found it difficult to read which means, as defined by the Ministry of Education, "2.5 seconds to read a couple of words versus 1.3 seconds for an effective reader."
The same results apply to children aged 9. The PIRLS program (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) compared the reading skills of children from CM1 with an average age of 9 years in different countries. In 2006, France had 24% of low level readers compared with 12% in the UK and 13% in Germany. This may be one more reason for the gap in competitiveness between France and Germany!
Nevertheless, the impact of illiteracy is both social and economic. Lowering its rate will certainly improve the individual and collective skills of the workforce and contribute to generate growth.
These educational projects will challenge both the worlds of education and of training. They deserve some attention and careful planning. Getting rid of illiteracy is about dignity and respect that enable all citizens to read and write in order to live and work together in democratic debate and to exercise their freedom wisely. Possibly never has operational knowledge been so important and the stakes so high.