Beyond ABC’s: Giving Girls a Chance to Succeed


© Courtesy of CODE

Sarah confidently strode out of the classroom where she had just concluded writing her Liberia Primary School Certificate Exam.

The sun was shining brightly, reflecting her buoyant spirits. “I know I passed!” she declared.

Sarah did indeed begin the new academic year as a seventh grader—a tremendous achievement given that only 32 percent of girls in Liberia transition successfully to Junior High. Sarah is defying the odds with a little help from the Canadian charity CODE (formerly the Canadian Organization for Development through Education).

When Sarah first joined CODE’s Girls’ Accelerated Learning Initiative (GALI) in 2017, she was a 10-year-old sitting in a Grade One classroom. Having already repeated Grade One twice before, Sarah was struggling to learn to read and to advance. With her parents not necessarily seeing the “return” on their decision to enroll Sarah in school, her days in the classroom were most likely numbered.

Through GALI’s small-group afterschool tutoring, Sarah’s learning accelerated and double promotions over a two-year period allowed her to catch up to a more age-appropriate grade. The program, established by CODE, an Ottawa-based international development organization, and implemented by its local partner, the WE-CARE Foundation in Monrovia, aims to give girls like Sarah an academic lifeline.

Underlying Sarah’s success story was her mastery of foundational literacy skills, which opened the gateway to learning in all other subject areas.

Sarah explains in her own words, “I was very excited [to join GALI] because I knew that it was going to benefit me in the future. Knowing how to read and write…can further my understanding of lessons.”

Literacy is about mastering the basics—ABCs, letter sounds, decoding, and word recognition—but it goes well beyond that to include fluency, comprehension, and critical thinking. The teachers that CODE trains to facilitate GALI focus on developing the entire spectrum of literacy skills, thereby helping girls to become problem solvers and eager learners.

Given the many barriers that girls face in gaining an education, GALI extends beyond academic support to include life-skills development. The girls open up during their life-skills lessons about difficult subjects like puberty and sexual health, and they turn to each other for moral support.

It’s this camaraderie and the safe space that GALI creates that help the girls not only thrive in their studies but also gain a sense of empowerment and self-worth that helps them challenge norms and assert their rights.

Over the past three years, with support from partners like Montreal-based 60 million girls Foundation, CODE has demonstrated that remedial lessons and life-skills development opportunities for vulnerable girls need not be difficult or expensive to make a positive impact. Opportunities are eagerly being sought to expand the program in Liberia and beyond.

For girls like Sarah, GALI has been a lifeline that has set them on a solid track toward primary school completion and transition into higher grades. But beyond the immediate benefits, we know that investments in girls’ education creates a virtuous circle over time because literate mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school.

But when asked what they dream and hope for their futures, “becoming mothers” is the furthest thing from their minds. These girls aspire to continue their studies, to be self-sufficient and to give back to their communities in many inspiring ways.

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For the last 60 years, CODE has been working towards our vision of a literate world. The groundwork was laid in 1959, when a small group of educators, librarians and publishing professionals launched the “Books for the developing world” project, packaging used books in tea chests for shipping overseas. Since then, CODE has grown into Canada’s leading international development agency focused uniquely on education and literacy.


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