Robinson Crusoe Island

This project, a language and reading intervention programme for Chile, piloted in the Robinson Crusoe island population, is being funded by a research grant from the ESRC. The project will run from February 2016 to the end of September 2018.

Robinson Crusoe Island forms part of the Juan Fernández archipelago situated 667 km west of Chile. This small island (population ~800 inhabitants) is geographically and culturally isolated with limited amenities and access to educational opportunities. The population has a high incidence of language and learning disorders (De Barbieri et al., 1999, Villanueva et al., 2008) and its vulnerability was exacerbated by a tsunami which eliminated municipal facilities, including the school, in 2010. Classes now take place in a shipping container with little space for individual tutoring or quiet lessons.

Studies show that explicit training in phonological (speech-sounds) awareness, letter knowledge and reading can provide long-term educational advantages for children with language difficulties (Snowling and Hulme, 2012). This project will therefore build on an existing alliance between the Universities of Chile and Oxford to pilot a language/reading intervention programme in the Robinson Crusoe community. The programme will draw upon interventions that have proven success and develop materials and qualified trainers to allow their delivery in Chilean school settings. Strong language foundations bolster literacy development and numeracy skills and provide a wider framework for classroom learning maximising employment opportunities and promoting economic and social well-being in the longer-term.

This project aims to design and pilot a language and literacy intervention programme that may be used for rural, isolated and indigenous populations in Chile (and beyond).

The direct objective of the programme is to evaluate the value of reading and language intervention within vulnerable Chilean populations. ‘Value’ will be measured across different aspects: (i) the integration of the programme into school life, (ii) the educational gains associated with intervention, (iii) the efficacy in different educational and clinical subsets of children, (iv) the transfer of skills into the community, and (v) the feasibility of such a programme across other isolated and mainland populations.