The USAID-funded Uganda Literacy Achievement and Retention Activity (LARA) improves learning outcomes and school retention and reduces school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) by improving instruction, building a positive school climate, and strengthening students’ social and emotional learning. LARA is being implemented in 38 targeted districts, reaching more than 3,500 schools, 40,000 teachers, and 1.3 million students.
Through its activities, LARA builds local institutional capacity, supports policy development, and is institutionalizing training content and approaches, resource flows, and the local ownership needed for sustaining LARA’s contributions past the life of the program to self-reliance.
Improved reading outcomes – and a foundation for more
LARA helps program schools improve learning instruction and increase student retention by training and supporting teachers and providing quality, language-appropriate learning materials to every child in Primary 1 to 4 (P 1-4, referring to grade) in the targeted districts. The program has also carried out a learning campaign to encourage family members to read with their children.
Learners in LARA-supported schools are reading with greater fluency than those in control schools. For instance, students learning to read in Luganda in program schools were more than twice as likely to read 20 words per minute (wpm) than students in control schools. In the Runyankore-Rukiga language, 41 percent of students in program schools could read 20 or more wpm compared to only 5.5 percent in control schools.
And these results are being achieved at scale. Together LARA and the USAID-funded and RTI-implemented Uganda School Health and Reading (SHRP), are suporting improved reading outcomes in 85 percent of the country's districts.
Preventing school-related and gender-based violence
SRGBV is widespread globally and includes bullying, harsh forms of punishment, and sexual harassment and assault. LARA’s SRGBV baseline study found that more than 95 percent of students reported being bullied in the past term and more than 88 percent said they were subjected to corporal punishment. More than 41 percent of P3 students and 50 percent of P5 students said they had experienced sexual harassment in the past term. Although both boys and girls experience all forms of violence, they experience it differently due to socially-constructed gender and power inequalities prevailing in their school and community environments.
To prevent and reduce incidents of SRGBV and promote positive and supportive school climates, the LARA team worked collaboratively with local stakeholders to design the Journeys Program. Journeys has a series of activity handbooks—one for students, one for teachers and non-teaching school staff, and one for community members—that begin discussions and lead to collective action. This innovative approach to addressing violence in schools applies adult education techniques to educate teachers and community members about the problem, and their roles and responsibilities in addressing it. Recognizing that violence can be entrenched throughout schools and communities, Journeys engages all key actors and has been rolled out in 2,557 Ugandan public primary schools. Initial evidence of Journeys’ impact suggests that Ugandan schools are on their way to becoming positive and safe environments for learners and teachers alike, with communities and schools working together to respond to reports of violence and ensure that children are referred to the services they need, and reported cases are tracked and closed.
In 2018 LARA began implementing “Plus Up” activities to enhance child protection in target communities. Under Plus Up, LARA is working with local partners that specialize in helping orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) to identify and train community change agents to enhance child protection and support case management and referral. Through Plus Up, LARA is directly addressing the needs of primary school girls and boys (aged 6-14), teachers, district and national education officers, parents, and community members. Additionally, LARA is working with OVC-specialized implementing partners to expand gender-based violence programming to eight new Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) districts, and is integrating HIV/AIDS awareness into the student curriculum to further help children to protect themselves and others.
Stakeholder Capacity Development
LARA was an early adopter of the USAID collaboration, learning, and adaptation (CLA) approach, which it has used to achieve its central objective of building the capacity of stakeholders at the system, school, and community levels to sustainably improve early grade reading in Uganda. LARA has ensured broad and inclusive stakeholder engagement, using a facilitative approach to help education leaders initiate a change process with wide representation of stakeholders. This objective is being realized through a series of coordinated trainings, planning and dissemination workshops, symposia, and an initiative to strengthen the leadership abilities of senior staff from the Ministry of Education and Sports.