Egypt: Spreading the word on literacy

School should be fun. Yet for some young children, the classroom can become a place they fear and dread. 

Unilever icon imageHelping children learn

With twenty, thirty or even forty children to a class, it's easy for pupils to slip through the net. For those that do, most schools simply don't have the resources to give them the individual attention they need and deserve. 

That's why individual one-to-one lessons make such a huge difference. In many countries around the world, our employees are giving their time and enthusiasm to offer just that kind of personalised attention. 

Literacy support is best delivered via experienced educational charities or directly with the appropriate authorities. Unilever Netherlands, for example, works with Rotterdam City Council to help children of different cultures read and write Dutch.

Poor literacy is a big concern

Another of Unilever's literacy programmes operates in Australia and New Zealand, where national data indicates that as many as one in five students have some form of learning difficulty. It comes as no surprise then that our staff prioritised literacy as one of their top social concerns. 

Unilever Australasia teamed up with education charity Learning Links to develop and run a programme they named Reading for Life. This is designed to help primary school pupils become better readers. Around 400 Unilever employees to date have volunteered their time of an hour a week over the 15-week programme. 

Each of the children involved in the scheme saw improvements in their reading ability and their self-esteem. In two primary schools in New South Wales in 2004, for example, the gains in children's reading fluency, accuracy and comprehension increased on average by six, eight and nine months respectively.  

"I feel good"

"I feel different and I feel good because I can read a lot faster and I can also read long words", said one Australian pupil who received one-to-one lessons. A volunteer sums up her experience as equally rewarding: "because you're doing something different. My pupil, when I first met him, wasn’t able to look at me and talk. Now, he looks directly at me."

And as the Chairman of Unilever Australasia, Peter Slator says: "Supporting our people to be Reading for Life volunteers and make a difference for local school children has been a real three way win – it's been great for the children, our employees and Unilever."

From the factory to the classroom

But it's not just children that need to read. In Egypt, for example, Unilever Mashreq has been teaching 160 women to read and write Arabic for the first time. Based on our experience of offering our factory workers the chance to improve their literacy, we saw that there was a need to share this opportunity with women who live around our head office in the industrial zone of Alexandria. We worked with a local partner to set up this teaching scheme and its first proud pupils celebrated their achievements with a graduation ceremony hosted by our managing director Khaled Fayed and all those involved.

Learning from teaching

Wherever our people are involved in literacy programmes, we see a positive impact on employee morale and pride.  Feedback from principals and teachers shows just how significant this kind of one-to-one attention can be. In addition to the immediate learning improvements, teachers note that an improved approach to learning and greater self-esteem feeds into pupils' long-term educational progress.

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