Inside the READ Act - part one

"the linguistically marginalized and the new USG International Basic Education Strategy"

-  by SIL LEAD Executive Director, Dr. Paul Frank

A year ago today, the United States Congress passed the READ Act—Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development. This is not just another bit of legislation. For the first time, the US government hopes to weave together all the disparate efforts of 10 agencies* into a unified effort to provide quality basic education around the world.

The Administration was given one year to develop and present a strategy to Congress covering the next five years. So from then until today, the clock has been ticking.

The scope of the Act is very broad. It includes literacy, numeracy, and other basic skills, workforce development, vocational training, and digital literacy, at the early childhood, pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels, both formal and informal, and including out-of-school youth.

There are two basic goals of this effort:

  1. Seek to equitably expand access to basic education for all children, particularly marginalized children and vulnerable groups; and

  2. measurably improve the quality of basic education and learning outcomes.

I particularly appreciate this emphasis on marginalized children and vulnerable groups. Since SIL LEAD and partner SIL International focus on non-dominant language groups, any attention to the marginalized inherently includes linguistic minorities. Many projects that I have seen or participated in during recent years have focused on the majority population, leaving those at the margins behind. It takes more money and effort to deal with such groups. The urge to serve the largest number of children with the least amount of money can crowd out the higher investment required to come alongside those in difficult circumstances or whose needs are different than the majority. Compassion and a commitment to educational equity drive us to serve those who are otherwise least served.

The READ Act called for the appointment of the “Senior Coordinator Of United States International Basic Education Assistance” and Julie Cram is now filling that role. Ms Cram and her staff have spent countless hours meeting with a wide range of groups involved in basic education. I had the opportunity to participate in several of these briefings. For someone who acknowledges her lack of experience in education, Ms Cram showed a keen grasp of the key issues and a readiness to learn.

A key task for her first year was to develop a strategy for international basic education. The strategy Ms. Cram and her team has developed was presented to Congress today. It shows the good thinking of those involved in its development and it reflects the input provided by a wide range of interest groups. In my next post, I will discuss selected aspects of the strategy and will focus specifically on how this strategy will impact linguistic minorities around the world.

* The ‘relevant Executive branch agencies and officials’ the Act covers are the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the National Security Advisor, and the Director of the Peace Corps.

Paul Frank Sketch.jpg

Paul Frank, PhD, is SIL LEAD’s Executive Director. As one of SIL LEAD’s founders, Paul brings 30 years of experience working with language issues in developing country contexts.

Prior to leading SIL LEAD, Paul was the Director of International Relations and Vice President for Academic Affairs for SIL International. For 17 years, he implemented and led language development fieldwork in Colombia for SIL. Paul has also served as a board member for SIL International for three years. He holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania.