Improving Reading and Writing in Ethiopia

Supporting mother tongue language curriculum reform in Ethiopia

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Books for Africa, Florida State University, Inveneo, Save the Children International, SIL LEAD, Whiz Kids Workshop

Over the past few decades, Ethiopia’s education system has been extremely successful in increasing access to primary education. However, while gross enrollment numbers have reached 100 percent over the past decade, the quality of education has not improved. In fact, education quality has been further strained by the growing numbers of students in classrooms. Using the Early Grade Reading Assessment, grade 2 students were assessed in 2010, with nearly one-third reading no words correctly.

To address this problem, USAID funded RTI to implement READ TA: the Reading for Ethiopia’s Achievement Developed—Technical Assistance project. Working under the leadership of the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, and supported by Regional State Education Bureaus, RTI has collaborated with other USAID implementers since 2012 to improve the reading and writing performance of 15 million primary grade students in seven Ethiopian mother tongue languages and English.

Building Capacity Among Local Education Leaders

Through READ TA, we built the capacity of more than 300 local education officials, writers, and illustrators in curriculum development. Together, we developed 320 titles of grades 1–8 student books and teachers’ guides for reading and writing instruction in seven Ethiopian languages and English. The result is a curriculum based on existing evidence for effective reading instruction, with built-in assessment and feedback for support and enrichment.

Innovative training and support strategies can also help teachers become more effective in the classroom. READ TA supplied more than $17 million in grants to train more than 2,500 trainers, who in turn trained 113,385 teachers using in-service training manuals developed by READ TA. The project also directly trained more than 3,000 school leaders and education officers in teacher instructional support and supervision, in part to reduce the quality compromises inherent in cascaded trainings.

To ensure that pre-service teacher training is aligned with the new curriculum, READ TA, along with local partners, developed seven full semester pre-service course modules and trained more than 220 mother tongue lecturers in seven languages at all 36 Colleges of Teacher Education in the country.

Innovative and Inclusive Classroom Programing

By developing and applying gender and inclusion guidelines in the textbook development process, we ensured balanced and appropriate representation. Beyond modifying curriculum materials to be more inclusive, technology innovations helped READ TA implement pilot initiatives to make the classroom environment more inclusive for students with special needs.

For example, knowing that poverty and disability are intricately linked, we screened 3,725 children in 63 schools and found that more than 9 percent of students have a vision or hearing impairment. Such impairments significantly impact learning outcomes that increase as children age. To complement the screening effort, READ TA implemented a proof-of-concept study to improve teacher attitudes and self-efficacy for inclusive reading instruction. For this purpose, we adapted the grade 2 teacher’s guide in all seven languages to incorporate inclusive practices. For students with vision impairments, we developed a multimedia lesson plan app that integrates audio files into phonemic awareness and story reading activities. Results from rigorous baseline and end-line assessments indicate significant improvements in teachers’ attitudes and self-efficacy in teaching reading to students with vision and hearing impairments.

READ TA technology innovations also included an app called Papaya for pre-service teacher educators. Papaya plays and records letter sounds in the seven mother tongue languages and has been distributed on tablet devices to mother tongue lecturers at all of Ethiopia’s Colleges of Teacher Education. To complement Papaya, READ TA produced more than 200 model videos highlighting key instructional techniques to help emerging teachers build models of quality reading instruction in the classroom.

Exceeding Target Milestones for Curriculum Development  

Many READ TA activities went above and beyond initial project plans and targets and achieved additional milestones. Among the seven mother tongue languages targeted, curriculum materials for three (Afaan Oromo, Amharic, and Af Somali) were adapted to better address the local context of communities living outside those administrative regions. These adapted materials account for 192 of the 320 titles developed under READ TA. Moreover, English language syllabi were revised for pre-primary through grade 12, when the original plan was for only grades 1–8. Additionally, READ TA curriculum materials and training have reached Somali refugee children living in refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s economy and infrastructure are currently experiencing rapid growth. To sustain this growth and achieve middle income status by 2025, as the Government of Ethiopia is targeting and the World Bank is predicting, the country will need a workforce that has not only attended school, but one that has learned as a result. Through READ TA, we are helping Ethiopia build the foundation for a stronger education system and a more literate population.