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Pre-school educational programme wins FNR Award

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Publié le mardi 23 octobre 2018

At the 10th edition of the FNR Awards, the FNR Award for Outstanding Research-Driven Innovation was conferred to Dr Pascale Engel de Abreu for her pre-school project "LALA – Lauter lëschteg Lauter".

The FNR (Luxembourg National Research Fund) rewards every year outstanding research projects, scientific publications and persons working in the field of science. The project LALA met criteria in terms of both relevance for the Luxembourg population, and in terms of scientific testing according to strict standards.

“I am very honoured to receive the FNR Award for Outstanding Research-Driven Innovation. I am convinced that evidence-based policy-making is not only the responsibility of policy makers but also of us researchers and those institutions that support research, explains Ass. Prof. Pascale Engel de Abreu, educational psychologist at the University. “The LALA programme is evidence-based, it works and children and teachers really liked it. I really hope that LALA will find its way into Luxembourgish pre-schools so that all children, irrespective of their background, can develop their full potential.”

‘LALA – Lauter lëschteg Lauter’

Almost half of the 5,000 children to start pre-school in Luxembourg each year struggle to learn to read and fail to reach the minimum national reading standard by age nine. Around 10 per cent will develop severe reading difficulties. ‘LALA – Lauter lëschteg Lauter’ – a pre-literacy programme for pre-school in Luxembourg – was designed with special attention to Luxembourg’s unique school context: the multilingual pupil population.

“Even before they start formal schooling, children have to develop a number of skills which will prepare them to learning to read. The development of these so-called pre-literacy skills can be fostered with the right methods at preschool,” says Dr Pascale Engel de Abreu.

The programme consists of tailor-made language games and activities in Luxembourgish, which the teacher - aided by the parrot handpuppet Lala - can perform in short sessions with the whole class. “It introduces children to speech sounds and the related letters in a playful, systematic and explicit manner. It focuses on phonological awareness and on linking speech sounds to their corresponding letters,” Engel de Abreu elaborates.

Testing in a real setting

The programme was tested over three years in eight schools in Luxembourg, involving over 200 children. Four of the schools worked with the research version of the LALA programme for 12 weeks, while the other four followed the normal curriculum. “All the children were tested before and immediately after the programme in pre-school and again nine months after the end of the programme. We also collected feedback from parents, children and teachers via interviews and focus groups,” explains Cyril Wealer, a PhD student working on the project.

“All children made huge progress, both strong pupils, and also the weaker ones”

Children who participated in LALA did significantly better on measures assessing pre-literacy skills than children who did not participate in the programme.

“I noticed enormous progress in all children. At the beginning, I was rather sceptical, thinking that the programme might overburden the pupils, especially the ones who struggle. But this was not the case at all. All children made huge progress, both strong pupils, and also the weaker ones,” says teacher Marie-Paule Frank, one of the preschool teachers who tested the programme with her class.

“The programme is structured in a way that allows activities to be differentiated, from easier to harder, enabling each child to participate at their own level,” adds teacher Diane Steffen.

A particularly encouraging result was that children who did not speak Luxembourgish at home showed good progress, even though the programme was delivered in Luxembourgish.

Next steps & LALA early-reading app

With support of a grant from the FNR’s innovation programme JUMP (formerly PoC), Engel de Abreu is fine-tuning the research version of LALA into a programme that could be rolled out in Luxembourgish pre-schools. With a second grant from the FNR’s JUMP programme, Engel de Abreu is also developing the LALA early-reading app, which brings the knowledge from the LALA programme to the digital world.

“There is still a large gender gap in science and innovation and the scientific and economic impact of addressing this gender imbalance is significant,” she concludes. “I hope that this award can contribute towards removing barriers for female scientists and innovators and inspire more woman to come forward with ground-breaking ideas.”