Principal Investigator: Rebecca Thornton. Lead Organisation: University of Michigan
Co-investigator: Jeffrey Smith
Literacy is the foundation for an informed, skilled citizenry. But in East Africa, less than 1/3 of pupils possess basic literacy skills. Ugandan children perform the worst; only 44.5 percent pass basic literacy tests. Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) data from a Research Triangle Institute survey in northern Uganda in 2009 indicated that 82% of P2 pupils could not read a single word in the local language, compared to 51% of P2 pupils in the central region. Similar to other African countries there are many problems in Uganda's education system, including undertrained teachers, lack of materials and quality methods for teaching literacy, non-existent systems for tracking pupil performance, and parents, communities and local officials that lack the know-how to support and advocate for their children's education. Despite strong mother tongue education policies, due to underdeveloped orthographies and a lack of materials in many languages, implementing successful mother tongue literacy programs poses a significant challenge for African countries, including Uganda. While many educational interventions and literacy programs have been implemented in Africa, impacts have been minimal overall; moving to scale has also proven problematic as program effects reduce further. Since 2010 Mango Tree, a private, locally owned educational tools company, has been piloting a successful early literacy project in one language community in northern Uganda. The main goals of the Mango Tree program include increasing literacy rates, enhancing education quality through improved, effective materials and teachers, and fostering a culture of reading among pupils, parents and communities within a cost-effective and scalable framework. Compelling evidence for the large benefits and cost-effectiveness of the intervention comes from a pilot randomized evaluation of the program conducted by University of Michigan researchers in 2013 and 2014. The Literacy Laboratory Project (LLP) will scale up and evaluate the Mango Tree literacy program, whose model delivers better-quality teacher instruction, access to relevant literacy materials, inclusive approaches to learner assessment, parental and community engagement in schools and strengthening literacy infrastructure so that reading and writing, especially in local languages, becomes a meaningful part of daily life in households and communities. This scale-up will test a piloted and improved model to evaluate its effectiveness and test the mode of program delivery. Under the LLP, researchers from the University of Michigan will conduct a rigorous randomized control trial of the program in the Lango Sub-region over 4 years to measure the effectiveness of the instructional model, teacher training and support supervision innovations and literacy materials and methods on Primary 1- Primary 3 pupils' literacy achievement and explore public-private avenues for scale-up. We will study 128 schools, which are randomly assigned to either the full LLP implemented by Mango Tree's field officers, a partial-program implemented by Government Teacher Tutors, or a control group. The study will also randomize instructional materials to evaluate their contribution to effective teaching. The study will collect a rich set of pupil, parent, teacher, classroom, and school-level longitudinal data. Learning will be measured principally in terms of improvements in EGRA and Early Grade Writing Assessment scores. Our goals are to: 1) demonstrate that big effects on learning are possible (as the 2013 pilot evaluation results point toward); 2) show that with the right combination of training, teaching and learning materials and correct support, teachers can be supported to effectively teach literacy - even in rural, under-resourced, overcrowded classrooms; and 3) to test and evaluate economic approaches to implementation at scale to determine value-for-money impacts on pupil learning and teacher performance in African schools.
Numerous literacy projects have been implemented in Africa and Uganda. Of the few that have been rigorously evaluated, the average program effects are low, yielding effects less than 0.20 standard deviation (sd) gains in learning. In contrast, results for Mango Tree's (MT's) program suggest very large effects - preliminary results from a 2013 pilot find an average gain in over one sd in letter recognition after one year of the program among Primary 1 students. This evaluation allows for the comparison of the effectiveness of MT's model with other similar programs in Uganda and Africa and will contribute to the body of available knowledge and inform effective modes of scaling up. MT has been developing and testing its' model and materials with government officials and teachers since 2009; its model is more advanced than others (as it has gone through piloting, small scale up and revisions) and ready for a large evaluation. We will use results to promote dialogue among policy makers and implementers about what works, what doesn't and why in literacy programming, with the goal of improving primary literacy interventions and helping decision-makers and practitioners align scarce resources with the most impactful programming possible. Results will be used to design standardized packages for scale up that allow the average school and teacher to access and successfully implement a literacy model at minimum cost and maximum impact. Direct beneficiaries include: 1) 75,000 Primary 1 (P1), P2 and P3 pupils in government-supported primary schools; 2) 800 P1-P3 teachers in government-supported primary schools; 3) 150,000 parents of P1-P3 pupils. Indirect beneficiaries include: 1) siblings of P1-P3 pupils; 2) 500,000 members of Leblango-speaking communities; 3) the Lango Language Board, a local body responsible for promoting the Leblango language and culture; 4) government institutions (Ministry of Education and Sports, National Curriculum Development Centre, local education officials, primary teachers colleges); 5) education civil society organizations. Since 2009, MT has been regularly engaging these partners through quarterly and annual results-sharing events in schools, communities and government offices; they receive project updates, attend results dissemination and reflection workshops and participate in routine feedback and planning meetings. At the start of the project, a stakeholder workshop will be held in Kampala and Lira to disseminate results from the 2013 and 2014 pilot evaluation and present plans for the 2015-2018 project period. Results will be shared with stakeholders, program implementers and policy/decision-makers. We will produce reports, journal articles, presentations, media (newspaper, internet, local radio and television), advocacy videos and other results-sharing documentation to disseminate through local channels and conferences in Uganda and abroad. These events provide an opportunity to share results and advocate for effective scale up of our methods with other practitioners and government officials, and reflect on ways to improve teacher and classroom practice to generate the best learning outcomes possible for the majority of pupils. In addition to publication of findings, we will also use our (expected) successes to advocate for our strategies to be tested and implemented elsewhere in Uganda and throughout East Africa. In many places in East Africa, demand for mother tongue education is low due to the perception that introducing children to instruction in local language will hinder their ability to learn international languages, such as English, which are keys to success. By demonstrating that local language instruction can in fact lead to better results in English, we will generate public and political demand for mother tongue education and replication of successful interventions that have proven effective in raising literacy levels at low cost and large scale.