A language and reading intervention programme for Chile, piloted in the Robinson Crusoe population.

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences


The Robinson Crusoe Island is a remote island situated 667km west of Chile. It forms part of the Juan Fernández archipelago in which there are three Islands but this is the only inhabited one. Access to the Robinson Crusoe Island is difficult, there is aeroplane access in the summer but in the winter there is only a monthly ship which serves the island (if possible). This means that the Islanders are very isolated, both geographically and culturally from the mainland, even though they are Chilean. The current population of the Island is approximately 800 people. The majority of these people are descendants of the families that founded the Island in the late 19th century and most people earn a living from lobster fishing. All people live in a single town and all children attend a single school.
Although the school follows the curriculum of the mainland, the teachers usually come from the mainland on a 2-3 year post and so are not necessarily integrated into island culture and the teaching tools are not always modified to the Islanders and their way of life. The isolation of the island means that children have to move to the mainland at a young age if they wish to continue their studies into higher education. Travel to the mainland is also essential for medical and dental treatment meaning that children can miss a lot of school. These factors can act as a barrier to a high quality education and reflect the challenges faced by many isolated and indigenous communities through Chile and the world.
The vulnerability of the Robinson Crusoe population, in terms of educational opportunities, is further increased by a high incidence of language and learning disorders, which are associated with lower educational attainment and employment opportunities. In addition, a tsunami recently struck the island wiping out existing municipal facilities including the school. Classes now take place in a shipping container with little space for individual tutoring or quiet lessons.
In theUK, studies have shown that vulnerable populations can be helped by extra lessons at school. Training in speech-sounds, letter knowledge and reading provide the best long-term educational advantages for children with language difficulties. Strong language foundations, in turn, bolster literacy development and numeracy skills and provide a wider framework for classroom learning. We would like to pilot this kind of scheme on the Robinson Crusoe Island to see if such interventions are also advantageous in isolated Chilean populations. This is an ideal population to test out the system because they have many complicating factors that challenge educational progression. If the interventions work here, we would like to make recommendations to extend the programme to other isolated, indigenous and rural populations in Chile. We will work with speech and language experts at the University of Chile, who have existing contacts with the Islanders and with specialists at the University of Oxford who have designed and trialed interventions in the UK and
Brazil. We will work with local professionals to provide training and support of the programme transferring skills across international boundaries and building research capacities in Chile. We hope that the lessons learned from this project can be extended to indigenous and continental populations on the mainland and beyond, allowing Chile to take a leadership role in the confrontation of educational inequalities.

Planned Impact

The primary direct beneficiaries of this research will be the inhabitants of the Robinson Crusoe Island. Prof Villanueva's previous studies have clearly demonstrated an increased incidence of speech and language problems on the Robinson Crusoe Island and established the need for a systematic review of the treatment of Island children. As a result Prof Villanueva and her team have developed a strong relationship with this community. Their advice and support is recognised and appreciated and their research has the proven ability to benefit the residents. They provide ongoing advice for resident teachers and the families of affected individuals. On the mainland, the team at the University of Chile have developed and normalised language tests which may be used to better assess language and reading development in Spanish speakers and have a reputation in the speech and language field which will ease the development of future programs which have the ability to impact upon the lives of many Chilean communities.
At the very minimum, our research promotes awareness of vulnerable populations and steps which may promote educational development and attainment in such populations. A better understanding of the efficacy of interventions in alternative cultures and settings represents a key step in addressing educational inequalities which has broad applications across lower income countries at a global level.
If successful, this pilot study will generate critical information which has the power to address some of the challenges which face socio-economically disadvantaged populations. Effective interventions have been shown to benefit literacy development and numeracy skills providing a scaffold for classroom learning. Strong educational foundations are tightly linked to employment and economic and social development. Thus, in the longer term, the proposed programme may bring benefit to the whole Chilean community and beyond.
In our project design, we have taken care to transfer skills and empower communities wherever possible. From the involvement of the more able students in the reciprocal reading classes to the training of local teaching assistants, the strategy is to combine the expertise skills of the UK and Chile to generate a sustainable programme that will impact the maximum number of people.
We will communicate our research outcomes using a diverse range of public engagement activities to inform and engage as many people as possible in our research. We present the results of our research in international peer reviewed journals and at national and international conferences. We are regularly involved in public engagement activities such as practical workshops for local schools and family activity days. Dr Newbury is an STEM ambassador for science and Prof Villanueva is involved in the "1000 scientists, 1000 classrooms" program managed by CONICYT (the Chilean scientific and technology national agency). This scheme involves the mentorship of final year school students by scientists and aims to inspire and motivate children in science subjects. Prof Snowling is a founder member of the RALLIcampaign (https://www.youtube.com/user/RALLIcampaign), a youtube channel which focuses upon issues surrounding speech and language impairment (and includes videos in Spanish). We communicate our research through social media and through our websites, which communicate information in many different formats and work with public engagement and press officers at our institutions to participate in public events.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/N01913X/1 29/01/2016 31/03/2017 £348,731
ES/N01913X/2 Transfer ES/N01913X/1 01/04/2017 30/09/2018 £217,775
Description We have developed an intervention programme for use in Chile. This programme has been delivered to an isolated community on the Robinson Crusoe Island in Chile.
We have found that the programme made significant differences to the pre-literacy skills, word reading, vocabulary, narrative and reading comprehension of children on the Island.
We have trained local researchers to deliver the programme and are working with other researchers to develop a more sustainable form of the programme.
We are adapting thsi programme for delivery in Brazil.
Exploitation Route We are liaising with local communities to adapt the programme for delivery in mainland Chile.
We are adapting thsi programme for delivery in Brazil.
Sectors Education

Description We have been working with the local community to implement the programme in a rural setting. This has involved developing an understanding of the local community and education and healthcare policies. The delivery of the programme represents successful knowledge exchange between researchers across countries and between researchers , policy makers and professionals. The entire group have now received some intervention and we have had other members of the community asking to be included in the next run. We have trained Island teachers and government to establish a long term delivery of the programme and will keep in contact with them going forward to achieve this goal. We are working with mainland Chilean researchers to pilot a short-version of the programme on the continent and with Brazilian researchers to adapt he programme into another format.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education
Impact Types Societal

Description Centre for Reading and Language 
Organisation University of York
Department Centre for Reading and Language (CRL)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have applied for and won a Newton grant to work with psychologists from the Centre for Reading and Language to develop a reading intervention programme in Chile
Collaborator Contribution Our partners will help us to develop the programme
Impact Newton award
Start Year 2015
Description UCL 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Researchers at University College London helped to design and implement the programme
Collaborator Contribution Researchers at University College London helped to design and implement the programme
Impact Programme design
Start Year 2016
Description Universidade Federal de São Paulo 
Organisation Federal University of São Paulo
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are liaiasing with a Brazilian researcher who is also developing a reading intervention to exchange ideas
Collaborator Contribution We are liaiasing with a Brazilian researcher who is also developing a reading intervention to exchange ideas
Impact Discussions regarding overlaps between programmes and possibility of trials in Brazil
Start Year 2017
Description university of leeds 
Organisation University of Leeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Researchers from the University of Leeds have helped to design and establish the programme alongside our team
Collaborator Contribution Researchers from the University of Leeds have helped to design and establish the programme alongside our team
Impact Programme design
Start Year 2016